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National View: Like cellphones, other infrastructure, pipelines need to be modernized

A few years after graduating from Eastview High School in Apple Valley, Minn., while working on my college degree, I remember turning on the television to see first responders descending on the banks of the Mississippi River, not far from where I...

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A few years after graduating from Eastview High School in Apple Valley, Minn., while working on my college degree, I remember turning on the television to see first responders descending on the banks of the Mississippi River, not far from where I had grown up.

Little did I realize we were watching one of the worst infrastructure disasters to hit our country's transportation system in decades, the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in downtown Minneapolis.

At the time the bridge was constructed, it benefitted from the best materials, construction techniques, and technology in the world. Yet a thorough investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board determined that as good as the materials may have been and as good as the construction techniques and technologies utilized were, weaknesses in materials and design were the primary contributing factors to the disaster.

In the decades since the bridge was constructed, materials, techniques, and technology all advanced exponentially. As a result of this incident, similarly designed bridges across the country were inspected and modernized so similar tragedies could be avoided and kept from happening again.

But it is not just infrastructure like our bridges that needs to be modernized. We are witnessing modernization occurring in all facets of our life, from our cars and mobile phones to energy infrastructure and from transmission lines and power-generating facilities to pipelines.

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Advanced materials, new construction techniques, training in apprenticeship programs, technical education centers, and new technology are allowing us to exponentially improve our lives and better care for our environment.

From a personal level, imagine a world without cellphones. All you must do is turn on Netflix, watch a few episodes of "Cheers" and see Sam answering the rotary phone at the bar to know it's still a technology we use and need.

Our parents had access to mobile phones that were big and bulky and that still would work today if we wanted to try them. But with the advent of the iPhone and the Galaxy, would you really want to? Phones are still phones, but their modernization has provided us with tremendous benefits we've become so accustomed to we almost take them for granted.

Our infrastructure, like water and oil pipelines, are just larger-scale versions of technology innovation that requires modernization to help move our society forward.

Since most of our pipelines were installed decades ago, it's necessary to ensure they're modernized, too, for our health and for the safety of our environment.

New materials have strengthened pipelines to operate more efficiently and with longer service lives. New construction and training techniques also have given way to some of the best-trained workforces to safely install and operate pipeline systems. New technology allows for 24/7 monitoring, remote shut-off valves, and more frequent inspections than ever before.

And it's not just pipelines we need; it's energy diversity, too. That means more wind and solar as we look to the future. But the amount of energy created from wind and solar cannot meet demand alone - now or even within the next 30 years. So, modernizing the infrastructure that supports us means using the best technology to meet the needs of our communities while also being environmentally responsible.

Those who oppose pipelines not only ignore the economic benefits for families and businesses; they ignore the safety pipelines provide as they transport energy through our communities - and it's to all our detriment.

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It's time to modernize Minnesota's infrastructure, meet our energy needs, and avoid raising prices for those among us who can least afford it. We invite you to join us in advocating for critical projects that will help sustain not only our communities but our environment - because upgrading and modernizing infrastructure is more than just changing out the energy supply.

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James Voyles

James Voyles is a former Twin Cities resident now in Washington, D.C., serving as the senior director and policy counsel for Consumer Energy Alliance ( consumerenergyalliance.org ), a consumer-support nonprofit.

Related Topics: TECHNOLOGY
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