American Public Works Association's 2016 National Public Works Week poster.
American Public Works Association's 2016 National Public Works Week poster.

Allow me to introduce Lucius Riccio. A long-time public servant with three engineering degrees, he was among other things New York City’s Transportation Commissioner.

“Professor Pothole” developed a snowfall-based resurfacing formula that lowered the number of potholes to 80,000. (Yes, that’s still a lot. But we’re talking about a city with 6,000 miles of streets.)

Mayors who fund his pavement preservation plan get fewer complaints and lawsuits than those who don’t.  When you’re shelling out $138 million in taxpayer dollars to settle lawsuits related to injuries and vehicle damage, why not spend a trivial amount of taxpayer dollars on proactive maintenance instead? It’s a much better investment.

I think it’s because, in the average person’s mind, there’s a difference between infrastructure and public works.

“Infrastructure” is big, sexy stuff like new roads and bridges. It gets federal funding and national attention. Engineering firms, equipment manufacturers, material suppliers, and contractors make a lot of money in relatively short order. Elected officials get to cut ribbons.

“Public works” is the municipal equivalent of owning a home. It’s a never-ending effort to keep the lawn watered and mowed, house painted, roof intact, driveway smooth, sidewalks snow-free, landscaping trimmed, and taxes paid.

Not too sexy. But very important.

At any rate, both the American Public Works Association and Infrastructure Week provide free resources for anyone – not just public agencies – who wants to promote public works and/or infrastructure.