Smart Roads. Smart Bridges. Smart Grids.
Federal, state and local governments are about to pour tens of billions of dollars into the nation's infrastructure. The big question: Will we simply spend the money the way we've been doing for decades -- on more concrete and steel? Or will we use it to make our roads, bridges and other assets much more intelligent?
Imagine highways that alert motorists of a traffic jam before it forms. Or bridges that report when they're at risk of collapse. Or an electric grid that fixes itself when blackouts hit.
This vision -- known as "smart" infrastructure -- promises to make the nation more productive and competitive, while helping the environment and saving lives. Not to mention saving money by making what we've got work better and break down less often.
But fail to upgrade, advocates warn, and the country may be locked into the old way of building for decades to come.
"The goal is not just funding projects for short-term job gains," says Paul Feenstra, vice president of government affairs at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, a group that promotes smart-road technologies. "It should be to create systems that are intelligent and improve productivity in the long run."