Infrastructure InvestmentAs infrastructure talks began to heat up again earlier this year, there was renewed optimism in Washington that Congress would finally pass a comprehensive infrastructure bill with a pay-for that invested $1 trillion, or even $2 trillion, in our nation’s infrastructure. A few months later, much of that optimism is gone, and talks between Democrats and Republicans on a long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill are almost at a standstill.

We can do better. We need to do better. 

Our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling as a result of decades of chronic underfunding. And this isn’t just hyperbole. We have instances of bridges collapsing, locks and dams failing, and roads so damaged that they cause harm to the vehicles and, more importantly, to the people traversing them. That’s not to mention airports so overcrowded that it feels like the week before Thanksgiving every day now.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), most bridges in America have a design life of 50 years. Yet the average age of our nation’s bridges is 43, with 39 percent of the 614,387 bridges in the National Bridge Inventory actually exceeding 50 years. Furthermore, as of 2016, Americans were taking 188 million daily trips over the 9 percent of U.S. bridges that are considered structurally deficient. This simply isn’t the level of safety that Americans deserve.

Our roads are just as dangerous. In the most recent year for which there is data, 2017, 37,133 people lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes. Now, not all of these fatalities are attributable to poor infrastructure, but the condition of our roads was a contributing factor in many cases. Setting aside the danger that poorly maintained roads pose, there is also a real, measurable financial cost to American families. According to TRIP, driving on roads in need of repair costs each motorist $605 each year, and that figure keeps rising. An increase in the federal gas tax would actually save Americans money if our roads and bridges are repaired and modernized as a result.

This is why AEM continues to lead the charge on a comprehensive infrastructure package and looks for every opportunity to tell Congress and the White House and they should make infrastructure investment -- a bipartisan issue if there ever was one -- their top priority. Because the cost of inaction for our industry -- and our country -- is far too great to ignore.

In fact, commerce in America suffers as a result of poorly maintained infrastructure, and the costs are often passed down to American consumers. A study by ASCE suggests that infrastructure deficiencies are estimated to cost American households $3,400 in disposable income this year, and by 2025 will cost the economy $4 trillion in GDP and a loss of 2.5 million jobs. And it isn’t just our roads, bridges and airports that are hurting commerce. Our nation’s waterways and harbors represent some of the most cost-effective, fuel-efficient, and safe modes of freight transport domestically, yet outdated infrastructure threatens to undermine the benefits they provide due to frequent delays and inefficiencies.

Too many of our nation’s locks and dams are obsolete, and insufficient maintenance has increased unplanned stoppages by 700 percent over the last decade. In 2017, a study performed by the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Tennessee concluded that unscheduled, extended outages at just four of the locks that they studied would create billions of dollars of harm to shippers and other areas of the economy that their activity supports. Without increased investment in our waterways, our economy will take a hit.

These are real issues that American families and businesses face every day, and our elected officials should tackle them head on with a bold new vision for how to modernize and rebuild our infrastructure.

While it is encouraging that Senate transportation leaders are working on a plan to pass a surface reauthorization bill through the Committee on Environment and Public Works before the August recess (including a recent hearing on the need for a multi-year reauthorization bill), we can do better. Our country needs a comprehensive legislative package that:

  • Upgrades our surface transportation infrastructure
  • Provides adequate resources to improve waterways and harbors
  • Prioritizes urban-rural connectivity
  • Modernizes airport facilities
  • Reduces regulations that delay project delivery
  • Encourages innovation and adoption of new technologies, and
  • Helps build a skilled workforce that can support infrastructure improvements today and tomorrow

It is time for our elected officials to stop kicking the infrastructure can down the road. We can, and must, do better.

Subscribe to the AEM Industry Advisor for more perspectives from AEM staff.