The definition of ‘infrastructure’ somehow up for debate

By |  August 6, 2021


A federal infrastructure bill has unfortunately not yet passed.

I had doubts about passage of an infrastructure bill coming into 2021, largely because one seemed like a sure bet during the first year of the Trump administration. But an infrastructure bill didn’t get done in 2017, and that narrative carried through 2018, 2019 and 2020.

I started to come around to the idea that an infrastructure bill just might happen this year after the framework of a bipartisan agreement emerged toward the end of June. That Democrats and Republicans could come together on the framework of a multi-year deal – one valued at $973 billion over five years or $1.2 trillion over eight years – was somewhat astounding in the divided Washington most of us see from afar.

Still, it was clear in the rhetoric leading up to that deal and in more afterward that the very definition of “infrastructure” is no longer clear. And that divide could ultimately derail any infrastructure bill from getting passed.

Traditional infrastructure

Sure, New York City traffic is horrible. But eliminating cars from New York City roads and expecting other U.S. cities to adopt the Big Apple's model is quite the stretch. Photo: Bim/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Infrastructure has long been about roads, bridges and highways, but the very definition of “infrastructure” is now up for debate. Photo: Bim/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Infrastructure to those who produce crushed stone, sand and gravel is very much about roads, bridges and highways. Historically, these have been widely accepted as “infrastructure.”

But words are apparently flexible – especially in Washington, where the concept of “human infrastructure” is now all the rage and being pitted against “physical infrastructure.” As Matt Bai writes in The Washington Post: “In adopting this rhetorical framework, [President] Biden was bowing to leftists in his party. They love this term ‘human infrastructure,’ nonsensical as it is, because they think describing all that spending as ‘infrastructure’ somehow makes it more palatable to voters who are skeptical of government programs generally.”

The meaning of “infrastructure” was one of many topics explored at this year’s Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference, where industry stakeholders made clear they’re concerned about enough dollars being put forth in coming years not only to maintain the nation’s physical infrastructure, which is rapidly deteriorating, but to enhance it.

As Schurco Slurry’s Will Pierce articulated nicely at the Roundtable: “We have to do something. We’re allowing [our infrastructure] to unravel. Our politicians have to see it. I feel like at a certain point we’re approaching an inevitability of ‘something’s going to happen.’”

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or

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