Infrastructure Is Everything

Imagine a world without infrastructure. You wake up in the morning, go to take a shower, but where’s the water coming from? You get the kids ready for school in a mad dash and rush them to the bus stop, but no bus materializes because there’s no road. Looks like you’re walking. Better call your manager because you’ll have to log into work a little late this morning, but there’s no way to call and for that matter, no way to log into work.

When it comes right down to it, every aspect of our lives is supported by infrastructure in some way. More than roads and bridges, infrastructure is the foundation of contemporary civilization. So when the American Society of Civil Engineers rated our country’s infrastructure a C- this year, you might ask yourself how we’ve let it slip this far, what we can do to improve it, and how better infrastructure can provide a better tomorrow.

Perhaps the best person to answer these questions and provide some insight is Mark Fialkowski, president of our Mobility Solutions business unit and all-around expert on everything transportation and environmental. Now with Parsons for more than 20 years, Mark has been fascinated by infrastructure his entire life.

While the average person takes infrastructure for granted, like the air we breathe, it’s Mark’s job to consider how infrastructure affects communities every day—and what Parsons can do not just to improve infrastructure but improve people’s lives in the process. “When you think about it,” Mark says, “you’re thinking about all those places we need to get to quickly and efficiently and safely. You’re thinking about having clean water when you turn on your tap. Having same-day Amazon deliveries. Having aesthetically pleasing points of interest that add beauty to a city or a rural area. Having a highly functioning economy.”

And if we’re being honest, we’re also probably thinking about our frustrations with today’s infrastructure. Bumper-to-bumper traffic. Airports choked with people. Train delays. Lead-laced water. Pollution. Mark says, “The problem is that local, state, and federal agencies are constrained by budgets and resources.” But that particular problem hopefully will soon find some relief with the passing of a monumental infrastructure bill, designed to modernize America’s aging infrastructure.

Mark says this influx of funding couldn’t come at a better time. “The interstate system, for example, rolled out in the late ’50s, ’60s—a couple pieces, maybe in the ’70s and ’80s—but it’s really designed for about a 30-year service life, and a lot of those segments are over 50 years old, so that’s why you start to see deterioration.” If we don’t reconstruct it, he warns, the system will continue to deteriorate, which means it’ll be more costly to maintain and would damage the economy, because trucks—still the primary vehicle used to deliver goods—would be stuck in bottlenecks. And certain regions would become less attractive to live in, so businesses and people would leave them behind, and there would be more unemployment.

That’s exactly the sort of bleak outlook Parsons is prepared to help avoid. While there’s a lot of work to be done, according to Mark, “That’s something we never shy away from. We’re so used to sharing work and working across all geographies and time zones. We can react quicker than our competitors and bring in the horsepower necessary to deliver those tough projects. We know the clients, we know the culture, we know the geography, and all of that really puts us in a great position to deliver the projects our country needs.”

As evidence, he points to Parsons’ involvement in major projects, both completed and ongoing. We were the lead designer for the replacement of the Goethals Bridge, between New York and New Jersey—one of the most advanced bridges in the world, accommodating future mass transit and incorporating state-of-the-art smart bridge technology. And we’ve been working on the Dulles Corridor Metrorail (Silver Line) Phase 2 design-build project, which will extend the line 11.4 miles to Dulles International Airport and beyond. And the list goes on, from airports to wastewater treatment plants and everything in between, both in the United States and around the globe, such as our Giant Mine remediation project, in Canada; our infrastructure work for Expo 2020, in Dubai; and our 50 years providing services in Yanbu, billed as Saudi Arabia’s first smart city.  

While all these projects are great examples of delivering meaningful infrastructure, Mark talks about some of our technological innovations driving the future of infrastructure. “In addition to our projects,” he says, “we have advancements like our digital twin work that we’re doing for airports and highways, where we create a digital model of the physical facility, so we can virtually manage and predict performance, which allows us to fix components before they fail. We have iNET®, and our people are leaders in XD design.”

So we can definitely deliver the shiny new infrastructure that’ll keep our country moving for the next century, but we’ve been saying for years that we’re delivering a better world, and we’re asserting that we can provide better infrastructure for a better tomorrow.

Sound too good to be true? Thankfully, it isn’t. In fact, we’re already looking at the big picture and working toward a better tomorrow. We’re fighting the effects of climate change by bolstering resiliency and sustainability on projects like the Turcot Interchange, in Montreal, where we rebuilt a downtown freeway system with net-zero environmental impact. Mark says we’re also working with utilities in California, “looking at  more resilient ways to provide electrical and gas service to customers, so we can avoid the overhead transmission lines that can start a wildfire when trees hit them.” This approach can also be extended to utility providers in the Northeast to increase resilience against snowstorms.

But it takes more than know-how to build a cleaner, safer, more sustainable, more resilient future. It takes a top-down philosophy that starts with our leaders, a corporate culture devoted to finding the best way to overcome challenges, and the driven individuals who fuel that culture. As Mark puts it, “You can have the best tools in the world, but if you don’t have the best people, you’re not going to deliver the best product to the client. As I’ve learned over time, it’s our people who differentiate us and contribute to our success. It’s that culture of sharing work that we’ve developed over the last 15 years or so that I think really makes us unique, because we’re going to bring in the best people for that job, not just the people that happen to be in that office or state, so we can deliver for our clients. And when we need to ramp up for a big project, we can bring in resources from all over the world.”

So tomorrow morning, when you wake up and enjoy a steaming hot shower, when the bus rolls in on cue to pick up your kids and deliver them safely to school; when you log into your computer at work at your usual time; when you cross a bridge, stealing quick glances at the bay; take a train, watching the leaves rush by in a wash of green; go through a tunnel, obliviously reading a newspaper; pour clean water into your coffee maker; find your Chewy.com package at your front door; or watch your luggage with the red yarn tied to the handle disappear down a conveyor belt, take a minute to think about the infrastructure that enables all of it to happen. Then maybe take another to imagine the possibilities. And if you’ve got the time, be sure to thank all of our infrastructure compatriots here at Parsons, who are working harder and smarter than anybody in the business to create a future that we’d all be thrilled to experience.

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