Throughout your daily routine – whether it’s your commute to work, grocery shopping, or visiting grandma – your life is dependent on crucial pieces of infrastructure you may not even notice. The foundation of our ability to enjoy electricity, running water, and home heating rests on millions of miles of electric cables, telecom lines, pipes, and gas lines running beneath our feet. In our modern world, the physical infrastructure that we never see is the cornerstone that supports our way of life.

Not unlike a bush or a tree, with a sprawling network of roots underground to support and sustain it, our modern infrastructure has roots. Buildings, street lamps, traffic lights all appear above ground but are powered and supported by modern roots underground.

Many of our utilities that deliver power or services to our homes rely on buried facilities underground. That makes awareness of the important role that they play essential for homeowners. Activities ranging from planting a tree to building a fence can lead to telecommunications lines being cut or a sewage leak. The field of damage prevention is dedicated to giving everyone from homeowners to professional construction workers the knowledge to avoid damaging underground utilities.

You may know intuitively that digging a hole near a tree will lead to striking a root – you should have the same intuition about digging anywhere. Internet and telephone lines, electrical cables, and water main, along with millions of additional miles of oil and gas pipelines can be anywhere.

A damaged utility can cost a homeowner or excavator thousands in repairs, and slow construction projects can grind to a standstill if a gas line is ruptured. Fortunately, anyone in the U.S. can call 811, which is the national call-before-you-dig phone number. 811 Call Centers will then dispatch locators to your home, business, or worksite to determine and mark the specific location of underground facilities using color-coded spray paint. Calling 811 can help shrink the upwards of $30 billion in direct and indirect costs that damaged utilities cost in the U.S. every year.

The costs are so high and damage events so frequent simply because people do not think about the dynamic network below their feet. Information, energy, and more course through the subterranean world below your feet. Beginning to see modern infrastructure like you see plants – supported and sustained by roots – is the first step in protecting yourself and the environment.

This month, Aii is dedicating every day to raising awareness and educating on these modern roots. Follow along as we explore Modern Roots March.


Written by Roy Mathews, Public Policy Associate and 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.