Does our society today put too much of an emphasis on innovation rather than maintenance?

The short answer is, “Potentially.”

Now, that doesn’t mean innovation is a bad thing. I think it’s great to push the limits of what’s possible and advance our technology forward. But we might be focusing on that to the point where we neglect proper maintenance.

Let’s take a look at how we’ve been handling our highways. Of the $416 billion the U.S. spent on its highway infrastructure in 2014, about $181 billion went toward capital projects (new construction, improvements, and so forth). That left about $234 billion for maintenance and operation.

Doing the math, that means around 43% of the budget went toward either new construction or improving existing infrastructure.

Here’s the problem, though. America’s bridges are gradually failing. About 8% (over 47,000) of all of the United States’ bridges desperately need repairs, and about 38% need some amount of repair work in general, though not all as urgently. As it stands now, it would take about 80 years to fix everything that needs fixing.

And that’s just our bridges, not the highway system as a whole. The need for repairs and regular upkeep is high (and it keeps growing), and we’re putting nearly half our budget into capital projects.

Of course, that’s just an example from our nation’s highway infrastructure. In general, we see a big push toward innovation, and an argument could be made that we’re not maintaining what we already have as well as we should.

On the other hand, we could also argue that a lot of what we already have is just going to be replaced as technology moves forward. That may be true in some cases, but anyone who’s been involved in maintenance planning knows you can’t just run everything into the ground and then replace it with something new. Most businesses don’t have the budget to keep replacing expensive assets.

Innovation is a good thing, but as great as it would be for everyone to have the most up-to-date equipment for their operations, making those upgrades can’t always happen right away. Sometimes, it’s more worthwhile to keep your current assets in good repair than to invest in new equipment every time something comes out. The costs of upgrading often outweigh the benefits.

And when it comes to bridges, you really shouldn’t run those into the ground anyway.