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Importance of Infrastructure from a Millennial Perspective

By May 13, 2019 May 14th, 2019 News & Viewpoints
Infrastructure modes

Everyone knows the stereotypes. Millennials don’t care, are lazy and want to kill all industries. (SMH.) The millennials at Stratacomm want you to think of our generation differently. We passionately provide clients with whatever they need, energetically raise our hand to help with the next project and, most importantly, don’t want to see mainstay sectors left out in the cold. While we are often positioned as the “car killers” or urban obsessives, the truth is we have diverse needs just like the generations before us.

The message of this year’s Infrastructure Week is directly relevant to my fellow millennials: “America’s future will be shaped by the infrastructure choices we make today.” 

With Washington, D.C. and Detroit, MI Stratacomm offices, our millennial perspective on infrastructure differs by location. D.C. is consistently ranked on lists for walkability and public transportation, and Detroit is known as Motor City and the center of America’s car industry. Despite that, we all believe in accessibility and robust options, with each city having different needs and wants as shared below.

Amber Garnett, Lover of level surfaces & WMATA extended service advocate in the D.C. area

As I’ve come into my own as a millennial, my world view has opened up to both the wonders of public transportation through my commute and the necessity of strong roadway infrastructure through my work with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT).

I rely heavily on public transportation to get around in my day-to-day. While I still own a car, it largely sits unused until I need to get a case of La Croix from the grocery store (maybe millennials being lazy is slightly true …). By not driving every day, I can multitask on my commute using the Metro or bus system, rather than staring blindly at the road ahead wondering when I’ll finally make it to my first cup of coffee.

Before working with DDOT, I didn’t know much about roadway infrastructure beyond the occasional pothole or rough sidewalk I would complain about. Now I know weird things like why manholes need to be at grade and when construction can be done based on if there’s a median in the road or not. While not everyone needs to know these tidbits to understand the importance of infrastructure, it does provide me with a unique perspective and appreciation for how influential infrastructure is in the lives of everyone, including my own generation.

A 2015 Urban Land Institute survey says, “Many millennials prefer walkable, bikeable communities and 63 percent would like to live where they do not need a car often.” While this study is several years old, it speaks to the sentiment I and many other city-dwelling millennials feel: we want infrastructure that allows us to move easily and integrate with our community, no matter what the mode. 

Jessie LeTarte, EV advocate & charging infrastructure guru in the Motor City

To my millennial mind infrastructure means more than just roads and railways. I’m a part of the generation that’s seen an entirely new type of car on the road. I’m talking, of course, about electric and hybrid vehicles. Electric charging infrastructure is new, exciting and completely necessary to support the growth of these carbon-free vehicles.  

Millennials are often first adopters for all sorts of technologies, and EV ownership is no exception. According to an article by John Voelcker in Green Car Reports, “Among Millennials (born 1981-1996), 63 percent are likely to consider an electric car.” But if EVs are ever going to see mass adoption there needs to be a significant change in infrastructure to support them. 

In 2018 Nissan (client) and EVgo completed a fast-charging corridor along I-95, connecting Boston and Washington, D.C. The series of nine electric vehicle fast-charging stations are designed to charge all EVs available today. It covers 500 miles in between the two cities and allows drivers to travel to and from one of the most densely populated and highly trafficked routes in the U.S.  

Some smartphone apps like Plugshare.com are making it even easier to find charging stations nearby. I pulled up my route home from work and was able to find at least seven or eight stations nearby, including ones right outside Stratacomm’s Detroit office building and my local library. It’s clear that charging stations are becoming more mainstream, and maybe enough to convince me to drive an EV.

Nicole Golvala, Strong believer in access & P3 supporter in D.C.

I grew up in suburban New Jersey, and the holy grail was getting your license as you needed a car to get everywhere, despite some transit options. When I think of getting around today, I evaluate my transit options. What time is the bus coming? What crazy roundabout will delay my bus? Is Metro single tracking? Is the Red Line on time? With that, and admittedly because of my job working with transportation and infrastructure projects every day, I think about our infrastructure often.

My needs today are different from five years ago, and the needs of our society are different from when the single-owner automobile reigned supreme. According to Robert Puentes, the percentage of licensed young people is the lowest it’s been in three decades as many move toward using other options. Millennials want “access, not ownership,” which for someone like me means shared mobility and access to quality public transportation.

This presents some unique challenges, or opportunities, to improve our nation’s infrastructure. But is our country stepping up? Despite the importance of infrastructure, U.S. spending on infrastructure only accounts for about 2.5 percent of the economy, compared to about 9-12 percent in China. While infrastructure can be expensive, there are ways to pay for the necessity beyond public financing, like public-private partnerships (P3s). According to the Federal Highway Administration, there are 12 states that do not have legislation on the books that allows for P3s.  

As a millennial, I’d like to see my peers encouraging legislators to pass P3 legislation for infrastructure projects across the country. And when things like Infrastructure Week come to your city, go to some events and learn about how you might be able to help in a small way, even if it’s with a vote. Our crumbling infrastructure won’t be rebuilt in a day, but we have a chance to rebuild the right way and address the changing needs of society as we look toward the future.

As you can tell, we all have a different perspective about what’s important in infrastructure, much like the millennial generation at large. Despite these differences, we’re the driving force behind large infrastructure change like electric vehicles and expanded public transportation access. That’s why the message of this year’s Infrastructure Week is so important. So, let’s #BuildForTomorrow.

Amber Garnett embraces some aspects of being a millennial, like having wanderlust and being hyper plugged in to social media, while bucking against the false stereotypes of being unmotivated. Her work at Stratacomm spans several different clients, but mainly focuses on DDOT and our infrastructure practice.