As we approach Infrastructure Week (May 15 through 19) – a week of education and advocacy designed to draw attention to the importance of infrastructure to our nation’s economy, jobs, and communities – we should stop for a moment and ask why? Why must we have an Infrastructure Week? Shouldn’t the wealthiest nation on the planet have the best infrastructure in the world? We should, but sadly, we don’t.
Of course, anyone:
- trying to get safe, clean water in Flint, Michigan,
- driving on the roads of many cities that are bursting with potholes,
- using mass transit in a city like Washington, DC where investment in the subway system is insufficient, and
- enjoying public parks in Kansas where the difference between what is spent and what is needed is believed to be quite large
…knows that something is not right.
But we also know in a more informed way from many experts on infrastructure, including the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Brookings Institution, academic researchers, the Heritage Foundation, and the U.S. Transportation Department, that our nation’s infrastructure is in need of significant repair and increased investments in maintenance.
What Does This Mean?
It means that our aviation, bridges, tunnels, highways, ports, rail, mass transit, dams and levees, energy systems, drinking water, inland waterways, hazardous waste disposal, solid waste disposal, wastewater treatment facilities, parks, and schools are in need of repair and maintenance.
What Do We Need To Do?
Clearly, we need to begin investing in our infrastructure right now. It is unlikely that we will instantly find all of the funds we need to repair and maintain our infrastructure when America’s debt is almost $20 trillion, but we cannot afford to do nothing. The reason goes beyond our deficient infrastructure – it speaks to our global competitiveness. America desperately needs ports and airports that can handle greater capacity; roads and bridges that can accommodate an increasing number of vehicles; mass transit systems that can move people from home to work efficiently and safely; and drinking water that is clean and safe. The resources to address these needs must be made available as soon as possible.
Experts seem to agree on several steps to make infrastructure investments possible, including:
- Increasing our annual investments in infrastructure by one percent of GDP;
- Maintaining existing and creating new dedicated public funding sources for infrastructure needs at the federal, state, and local levels that are consistently and sufficiently funded;
- Raising the motor fuel tax and considering new ways to tax road use, including miles traveled;
- Authorizing programs and funds to improve specific categories of infrastructure; and
- Establishing standards that require consumers to pay for the true cost of using, maintaining, and improving infrastructure, including water, waste, transportation, and energy services.
There is also substantial disagreement concerning which investment strategy would work best, which strategy would promote economic growth and grow jobs, and what role the federal government should play in infrastructure.
Whether a consensus around infrastructure investments can be reached will largely be left to the politicians – and they have to make their decisions based on evidence. For years there has been a lack of political will to move legislation designed to repair, maintain, and improve our infrastructure, and this hasn’t changed since the last national election. Even the current proposals from the president and Senate Democrats to invest more than $1 trillion in infrastructure spending over the next ten years have been met with little enthusiasm.
So why do we need Infrastructure Week? I guess the answer is a pretty straightforward one. Until the U.S. finds a plan for repairing and properly maintaining our infrastructure – not to mention investing in new infrastructure – Infrastructure Week will be necessary. This is our reality.
Next: The Economic Impact of Not Doing Enough to Improve Our Infrastructure