Last summer, I received notice that my city would be replacing the pipes and redoing the storm drains on my street. I was excited about not having my water run through old lead pipes, but I didn’t find the estimated timeline of work exciting: one year.
After a few false starts, work began in November 2022, around Thanksgiving. As I write this, the work is still ongoing.
There have been phases of work involving all sorts of heavy machinery digging several feet into the ground, tearing up driveways and sidewalks, laying pipes and pouring concrete. There have also been changes in traffic patterns, road closures, gigantic holes covered by steel grates, planned water shutoffs and unplanned water shutoffs.In fact, I’ve gotten so used to the noises between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. that it was once several days before I realized no one was working outside my windows. (I honestly think it took me so long to notice because I was hearing phantom beeps!)
Prior to this project, I knew very little about infrastructure, but I have learned some by talking with the construction crew and my own observations. The biggest lesson I have learned is that projects—even ones seemingly as straightforward as replacing pipes and storm drains on a residential street—are serious undertakings that require significant time. One year has proved to be an accurate estimate, unfortunately.
I’m sure many of you have similar experiences with getting safety programs and other safety-based initiatives up and running. You may not be digging down 14 feet into the ground, but you are drilling down into long-standing beliefs, practices and company culture—and that can be just as arduous to deconstruct and rebuild.
Safety, as with infrastructure projects, requires exhaustive preplanning to scope the program. That’s followed by extensive research to find a viable solution. Then, there’s the persuasive art of selling others on the idea and securing the resources (e.g., time, funding and people) to help bring the idea into fruition.
No matter how good an idea is in concept, implementation is a completely different beast. That’s assuming you are fortunate enough to not run into any unexpected bumps in the road that could delay or derail any project. All projects, no matter how big or seemingly small, are difficult. They require serious commitment, dedication and perseverance. They are not for the faint of heart.
For much of the time, a project can seem like it's one hair shy of breaking the camel’s back. It can often feel like nothing’s going right, or progress isn’t being made. In fact, it can often seem worse than before your project began.
With construction, the machinery, supplies and road signs are clear indicators of work in progress. They may even post a cute sign saying, “Progress at work. Pardon the dust.” It’s understood that things are messy, but that’s part of the process.
With safety projects, the process is pretty similar, but the work isn't as visible. In my opinion, that can make it more challenging for people to be patient and remain dedicated. That’s because you’re asking people to have faith in the end result without having anything to show for it in the meantime. Plus, they might not think anything was wrong or that change was needed in the first place.
There’s the saying, “It’s always worse until it gets better.” It’s cliché, but it’s also true. You can be trudging along for days, weeks or months before a metaphorical flip is switched and everything starts falling into place. Once it does, the changes gain momentum and it can feel like the project is completed in a matter of seconds. Afterwards, it’s impossible to stop marveling at the end result.
That may all be true, but that doesn’t mean that there aren't speedbumps and headaches along the way. Perhaps the best we can do is remember they will not last forever. Progress takes work, but in the end it's all worth it. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.
One of these days, hopefully soon, I will marvel at the new curbs, pristine driveway aprons, smooth asphalt, and guzzle water that’s not touched any lead pipes. For now, I continue to drive slow, dodge giant craters and remind myself that this will one day be a distant memory.