We are approaching another election of consequence, but aren’t they all. Regardless of who is elected, our next president and other elected officials have a big job ahead of them. Many things need to be done, but one that is not receiving enough attention is actually a ticking time bomb. Our infrastructure is quickly decaying, which will inevitably have catastrophic results if not soon addressed.
What is our infrastructure? Probably other things could be added to the list, but we can think of highways/bridges, the power grid, drinking water and sewer systems, levees and dams, and ports and locks. While I’m not a fan of government programs better suited for the private sector, our government – local, state and federal – is charged with maintaining and upgrading our infrastructure.
Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) creates a report card for America’s infrastructure. The last one – the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card – reveals that some incremental progress has been made toward restoring our nation’s infrastructure. It is certainly not enough, and our cumulative GPA is once again (like 2013) a D+.
As the graphic shows, the 2017 grades range from a B for rail to a D- for transit, which illustrates the clear impact of investment – or lack thereof – on the grades. You can see the three categories that received a decline and the seven experiencing slight improvements. Six category grades remain unchanged from 2013 – aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, energy and roads. The areas of infrastructure improvement demonstrate what can be accomplished when solutions that move projects forward are approved and implemented.
According to the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM), more than 70,000 bridges nationwide are structurally deficient. Our roads, railways and transit systems are relics of the past. We have been talking about this since 2008, and (with inaction) the project to bring existing assets back to adequate condition grows larger and more difficult to tackle. AAM says, “Passing a long-term infrastructure bill is not just practical but an employment and a national competitiveness issue, too. The benefits to America’s manufacturing sector would be significant, and by applying strong Buy America preferences, we can maximize the benefits for American workers. We can’t put off rebuilding our infrastructure any longer. Rebuild America. Buy American.”
As I write this, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce website indicates that the last federal surface-transportation reauthorization, the FAST Act, is due to expire on Sept. 30. A key concern when discussing infrastructure is how it will be funded. The Chamber of Commerce website spells out a four-step plan to get the discussion started.
- Modestly increase the federal fuel fee
- Expand financing options, like public-private partnerships, for local communities
- Streamline the permitting process to get projects off the ground
- Develop a skilled workforce to build these projects
A recent example of a large infrastructure project was featured in our magEzine. The Turkish government has undertaken an ambitious infrastructure investment program. This includes the construction of the world’s longest suspension bridge to connect Europe and Asia. The Canakkale 1915 bridge is scheduled to open in 2023.
Beyond the obvious needs, infrastructure improvement is also a problem of national security. We have previously detailed some of the issues with our power supplies having no backup systems or replacement parts in the event of an EMP-type event/attack. Like our limited pandemic preparation, a catastrophic event such as this will show our lack of seriousness about important matters of national security.
It’s clear that there’s a big job ahead. Is more or less government the best way to accomplish it? Either way, our industry and the overall economy will benefit as infrastructure projects are undertaken across the U.S. It’s not optional, so let’s get serious about it!