Unlike you, I’ve been down the Deep Tunnel. Twice. A system unique in the world, more than 100 miles of tunnels, some 33 feet across, a network holding 17 billion gallons of water. Drilled over decades through solid rock by enormous machines at a cost of billions of dollars, all to keep your basement dry.
Being there made me think of the pyramids of Egypt. I don’t want to speak for the shaven-headed subjects of pharaoh. But I imagine they felt a similar swelling of pride, to belong to a people who can do this kind of thing, who can crack the whip of our intelligence and engineering, social cohesion and wealth to make physical reality itself do these tricks.
Many of my favorite stories are infrastructure stories. I’ve stood on the floor of the Thornton Quarry before it was flooded and turned into the Thornton Composite Reservoir, and marveled at giant earth movers that look like gnats, lost in the vastness.
I’ve been through the Jardine Water Purification Plant. It began operation in the mid-1960s and is still the largest water treatment plant in the world.
I’ve ridden in a cement truck with Tim Ozinga. Been conveyed on the trolley of a tower crane, far too quickly, 600 feet above Michigan Avenue, and watched water pipes placed into a trough on Harrison Street.
I know more about Chicago’s 37 moveable bridges than is proper to know, having read “Chicago’s Bridges” by Nathan Holth. I wish I could say I watched rapt while one of the trunnion bascule drawbridges was balanced, using foot square cubes of concrete. Alas, my pleas to the city over years have been in vain. But hope springs eternal, and I’m not giving up yet.
So yes, maybe I’m more attuned to the inestimable value of pipes and roads and bridges and train tracks and electrical grids than most guys. But I can’t let Congress’s passage of the $1 trillion national infrastructure bill over the weekend pass without letting out a whoop of joy. Hooray! About time. Took you idiots long enough.
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