Hard infrastructure

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Highway 401 in Toronto, the busiest highway in North America

Hard infrastructure, also known as tangible or built infrastructure, is the physical infrastructure of roads, bridges, tunnels, railways, ports, and harbors, among others, as opposed to the soft infrastructure or "intangible infrastructure of human capital in the form of education, research, health and social services and "institutional infrastructure" in the form of legal, economic and social systems.[1] [2] This article delineates both the capital goods, or fixed assets, and the control systems, software required to operate, manage and monitor the systems, as well as any accessory buildings, plants, or vehicles that are an essential part of the system. Also included are fleets of vehicles operating according to schedules such as public transit buses and garbage collection, as well as basic energy or communications facilities that are not usually part of a physical network, such as oil refineries, radio, and television broadcasting facilities.


Hard infrastructure in general usually has the following attributes:[according to whom?]

Capital assets that provide services[edit]

These are physical assets that provide services. The people employed in the hard infrastructure sector generally maintain, monitor, and operate the assets, but do not offer services to the clients or users of the infrastructure. Interactions between workers and clients are generally limited to administrative tasks concerning ordering, scheduling, or billing of services.[citation needed]

Large networks[edit]

These are large networks constructed over generations and are not often replaced as a whole system. The network provides services to a geographically defined area, and has a long life because its service capacity is maintained by continual refurbishment or replacement of components as they wear out.[citation needed]

Historicity and interdependence[edit]

The system or network tends to evolve over time as it is continuously modified, improved, enlarged, and as various components are rebuilt, decommissioned or adapted to other uses. The system components are interdependent and not usually capable of subdivision or separate disposal, and consequently are not readily disposable within the commercial marketplace. The system interdependency may limit a component life to a lesser period than the expected life of the component itself.[citation needed]

Natural monopoly[edit]

The systems tend to be natural monopolies, insofar that economies of scale means that multiple agencies providing a service are less efficient than would be the case if a single agency provided the service. This is because the assets have a high initial cost and a value that is difficult to determine. Once most of the system is built, the marginal cost of servicing additional clients or users tends to be relatively inexpensive, and may be negligible if there is no need to increase the peak capacity or the geographical extent of the network.[citation needed]

In public economics theory, infrastructure assets such as highways and railways tend to be public goods, in that they carry a high degree of non-excludability, where no household can be excluded from using it, and non-rivalry, where no household can reduce another from enjoying it. These properties lead to externality, free ridership, and spillover effects that distort perfect competition and market efficiency. Hence, government becomes the best actor to supply the public goods.[3]


In 1990, Grübler discussed the history and importance of transportation infrastructures like canals, railroads, highways, airways and pipelines.[4]


Transmission lines in Romania.

The OECD classifies coal mines, oil wells and natural gas wells as part of the mining sector, and power generation as part of the industrial sector of the economy, not part of infrastructure.[5]

Water management[edit]

Irrigation canal near Channagiri, Davangere District, India


Post box (Slovakia)

OECD lists communications under its economic infrastructure Common Reporting Standard codes.[5]

Solid waste management[edit]

A waste collection vehicle in Sakon Nakhon, Thailand.

Earth monitoring and measurement networks[edit]

A Kinemetrics seismograph, formerly used by the United States Department of the Interior.


  1. ^ Picot, A., Florio, M., Grove, N., & Kranz, J. (2015). Public infrastructure provisioning: foundations and challenges. The Economics of Infrastructure Provisioning. The Changing Role of the State. Picot, et al. Infrastructure can be differentiated into tangible, intangible, and institutional infrastructure, citing Witte 2002 and Klodt 2009.
  2. ^ "The Difference Between Soft And Hard Infrastructure, And Why It Matters". StateImpact New Hampshire. Retrieved 2017-10-29.
  3. ^ Myles, G. D. (1995) Public Economics. Cambridge University Press. 263-264 pg.
  4. ^ Grübler, Arnulf (1990). The Rise and Fall of Infrastructures: Dynamics of Evolution and Technological Change in Transport (PDF). Heidelberg and New York: Physica-Verlag. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-01. Retrieved 2015-03-21.
  5. ^ a b OECD Economic Infrastructure. Common Reporting Standard (CRS) Codes 2 pages, n.d.


  • Larry W. Beeferman, "Pension Fund Investment in Infrastructure: A Resource Paper", Capital Matter (Occasional Paper Series), No.3 December 2008
  • A. Eberhard, "Infrastructure Regulation in Developing Countries", PPIAF Working Paper No. 4 (2007) World Bank
  • M. Nicolas J. Firzli & Vincent Bazi, “Infrastructure Investments in an Age of Austerity : The Pension and Sovereign Funds Perspective”, published jointly in Revue Analyse Financière, Q4 2011 issue, pp. 34– 37 and USAK/JTW July 30, 2011 (online edition)
  • Georg Inderst, "Pension Fund Investment in Infrastructure", OECD Working Papers on Insurance and Private Pensions, No. 32 (2009)
  • Ascher, Kate; researched by Wendy Marech (2007). The works: anatomy of a city (Reprint. ed.). New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 978-0143112709.
  • Hayes, Brian (2005). Infrastructure: the book of everything for the industrial landscape (1st ed.). New York City: Norton. ISBN 978-0393329599.
  • Huler, Scott (2010). On the grid: a plot of land, an average neighborhood, and the systems that make our world work. Emmaus, Penn.: Rodale. ISBN 978-1-60529-647-0.

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