To modernize Canada’s public infrastructure – every bridge needs a switch

Public infrastructure is a key driver of a nation’s success, particularly for a prosperous economy like Canada.

Infrastructure plays an essential role in supporting global economic competitiveness (trade corridors), safety and security (borders), public health (water, housing), environmental protection (clean air, clean energy and public transit).

As Infrastructure Canada put it, “Modern and efficient public infrastructure is key to supporting the Nation’s most important economic and environmental goals and to building strong and prosperous communities.” (See how you can help the Federation of Canadian Municipalities fight Canada’s infrastructure woes with the Great Canadian Infrastructure Challenge”.)

More than $48B was allocated between Building Canada Plan and Canada’s Economic Action Plan to provide some much needed long-term investment to upgrade and revitalize Canada’s infrastructure (2007 – 2014). With the end of this funding coming near, a new Long-Term Infrastructure Plan is being prepared that would continue the investment in Canada’s infrastructure.

Now, this topic calls for several interesting blog posts. Not the least of which is one about the fact that an investment in broadband and technology infrastructure isn’t actively considered as a lever to achieving the greatest impact on economic prosperity. But, I’ll leave that one for a future post.

Today, I thought to link this great investment and continued pursuit of infrastructure modernization to bridges … and the role of ICT (whereby “bridge” is not a technology term, but merely a reference to concrete or steel structure that allows passage across a physical obstacle). Please bear with me…

In North America there are more than 685,000 bridges, 80,000 of them in Canada. 30% of highway bridges in Canada are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. $5B would be required per annum for the renewal of Canada’s bridges. With limited funding, the question is where to start yet have the greatest impact.

I believe there is a clear application for information technology to support our network of bridges, for every bridge to have switches, sensors, and surveillance and become another node of the Internet of Everything.

The possible benefits are almost limitless. With an investment in broadband and networks as one of Canada’s pivotal infrastructures, can we maybe also reduce the traffic on these bridges? Can we commute and travel less through the application of advanced collaboration, while increasing interactions that drive economic opportunity and business transactions? Can we reduce and spread congestion and therefore re-distribute the bridges’ utilization and structural stress?

With the appropriate monitoring (sensors, video, analytics), investment decisions can be prioritized based on demand requirements, utilization, and condition. In addition to the appropriate measurement and prioritization of renewal back-log, a Smart+Connected Bridge can also predict its lifecycle and provide analytical evidence for timely interim upgrades and repairs that will have a positive impact on the technical and functional lifespan—confidently postponing the need for capital intense renewal projects.

There is a huge opportunity in this area. NRC Canada estimates that only 0.1% of all highway bridges are instrumented yet suggests that the technology already has proven to work. What’s holding us back? Lack of available qualified data management personnel, the fear of “big data”, and the absence of necessary re-alignment of investment from concrete and paint into technology.

With targeted investments in Smart+Connected Bridges, we can not only provide economic opportunity for a new industry, but also optimize and eventually minimize the investments needed in our bridging infrastructure.

And we might all get to work faster. That sounds good to me.

About Rick Huijbregts

Rick Huijbregts is Vice President of Industry Transformation where he is responsible for Cisco Canada’s IoE strategy and industry business development. The members of his team are industry subject matter experts and each engage in the transformation of their respective industries (healthcare, oil and gas, financial services, education, real estate, and industrial sector). Huijbregts is also General Manager for Cisco Canada’s Smart + Connected Communities practice, including Smart + Connected Real Estate. Huijbregts holds construction and architecture degrees from Tilburg Polytechnic University and Delft University in the Netherlands, and a doctorate from Harvard University. Huijbregts is currently a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Design Executive Education where he teaches classes on Smart Buildings and Smart Cities. He also serves on several boards of Canadian academic institutions and not-for-profits. Rick Huijbregts est vice-président de la transformation sectorielle dont les responsabilités comptent la stratégie de l’internet multidimensionnel et le développement commercial du secteur industriel de Cisco Canada. Les membres de son équipe sont tous des experts dans différents domaines et œuvrent à la transformation de leurs secteurs d’activité respectifs (santé, énergie, services financiers, enseignement, immobilier et industrie). Huijbregts est également directeur général du segment des communautés intelligentes et connectées, dont le volet immotique des immeubles intelligents et connectés de Cisco Canada. M. Huijbregts est titulaire de diplômes en construction et architecture de l’université Tilburg Polytechnic et de l’université Delft aux Pays-Bas ainsi que d’un doctorat de l’université Harvard. Il est actuellement professeur de Harvard à la faculté d’études supérieures pour les cadres en aménagement urbain où il donne des cours sur la gestion intelligente des immeubles et des villes. Il siège également à plusieurs conseils d’administration d’universités et d’organismes à but non lucratif.
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2 Responses to To modernize Canada’s public infrastructure – every bridge needs a switch

  1. Victor Poudelet says:

    what is your reference for the information about Canadian bridges condition ? It’s interesting to see how much investment we need.

  2. Rick Huijbregts says:

    Hi Victor,

    Thank you for your inquiry.

    There are several sources for this blog, which include: Canada’s Infrastructure Deficit a sad legacy for future generations (, Funding Canada’s $400B Infrastructure Deficit ( and National Research Council Canada (

    Please let me know if you have any other questions.

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