When you see a tree, you know it has roots. When you pull weeds, you aim to get all of those roots spread across the whole garden just beneath the ground. What you may not think of quite as intuitively is that modern infrastructure has roots too. This month, Aii will be taking a look at modern roots to explore what our infrastructure looks like beneath our feet and how to safely interact with it.

Under the buildings, homes, parks, rivers, and roads across America, well over 20 million miles of utilities are pulsing with the power, water, gas, and telecommunications services needed to keep modern life running. When you look up at a street lamp at night, you can rest assured that the cool light illuminating the street corner is powered by electrical lines at its base running under the sidewalk, street, and even the grass nearby.

It is not difficult to understand, only something most people don’t think about. Underground facilities are out of sight, out of mind. But it is critical that we keep these things in our minds.



It may not impact your day-to-day life to think that the fire hydrant in your neighborhood surely has a water line feeding it that runs the length of the street. It may not change how you relax in the evening to know that when you turn on your television, the cable and power come in from under your yard. But every year, hundreds of thousands of incidents occur when people dig into their yards, fields, or parks, and strike an underground line.

These modern roots should be as intuitive to us as the roots of plants. Everything that has power, water, gas, or Internet surely runs into the ground to interconnect with a wider system. And every time we see a piece of infrastructure above ground, we should understand that it most likely has roots running underground to supply energy and services to nearby buildings and homes.

Damage prevention is the practice of avoiding underground utilities when digging. It begins with a basic rule: call 811 before any digging project. More nuanced damage prevention rules govern how best to dig, what tools to use, and how different parties (e.g. the excavator, locator, utility company) interact with one another.

Stay with Aii this month during our #ModernRootsMarch educational series. You may learn to recognize new aspects of infrastructure around you. But most importantly, you can learn how to stay safe and protect others around you as well whenever you interact with the modern roots of American life!

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Written by Benjamin Dierker, Director of Public Policy


The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.