Infrastructure Week Highlights Importance of Smart Investing
By Robert D. Stevens, President of the American Society of Civil Engineers
Unless you’re stuck in traffic, without water because of a water main break, hitting a pothole or your power goes out, you probably don’t think all that much about infrastructure. As civil engineers, that’s how we want it.
Our goal is for infrastructure to fit seamlessly into your life and enable you to get where you want to go, turn on the lights and brush your teeth. We maintain a network of more than 600,000 bridges across the nation, 50,000 miles of transmission lines and more.
However, the current state of our infrastructure is making that seamless maintenance more challenging. The American Society of Civil Engineers, also known as ASCE, releases a report every four years that grades 16 categories of our nation’s infrastructure. In the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, the nation’s overall grade was a D+—and that was an improvement from the 2009 report. Two of the major contributing factors to the low grades were the old age of our infrastructure and the lack of investment into it. We did see some improvements from 2009 to 2013, and in each category where the grade went up, there was an increased investment that drove the improvement.
Americans recognize that there’s a problem. A new poll just released by the Mineta Transportation Institute reveals that a majority of Americans are willing to pay more in gas taxes if that revenue will go toward better road maintenance. And while we have big challenges, there are solutions that will help improve our infrastructure and strengthen the economy in the process.
One such way to help increase awareness of the importance of this issue is the third annual Infrastructure Week, May 11-15. The event brings together thousands of stakeholders—including ASCE, CSG, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many other prominent business, labor and policy organizations— in Washington, D.C., and around the country to highlight the critical importance of investing in and modernizing America’s infrastructure systems, and the essential role infrastructure plays in our economy.
You can join in Infrastructure Week from anywhere, promoting the message on social media using #RebuildRenew and by downloading the new “Save America’s Infrastructure” app for iPhone and Android phones. This reference and action tool offers the national grades, state facts and grades, news and legislative alerts all in a few clicks. As an added bonus, all the content is shareable with your social networks so you can tell others we need to save America’s infrastructure.
While the U.S. Congress has been slow to respond to our nation’s investment needs, we know that states have been leading the way. Currently, the federal Highway Trust Fund—the fund dedicated to pay for roads, bridges and transit—is heading toward insolvency for the second time in as many years. If Congress does not find a long-term, sustainable funding solution, then states will lose out on a collective almost $50 billion a year for road, bridge and transit projects.
As leaders in state government, you know a federal role in transportation investment is crucial. For most states, at least 52 percent of capital investment comes from the federal Highway Trust Fund. State departments of transportation depend on reliable funding to effectively plan projects, especially multi-year ones. ASCE has been working tirelessly to ensure that the federal government remains a partner in this area. To learn more about the need to Fix the Highway Trust Fund, visit www.fixthetrustfund.org and then share the message on social media using #FixTheTrustFund.
In contrast to the federal government’s inaction, seven states have taken action this year alone to address transportation needs and several more are still considering legislation. As incubators for effective policy, it is encouraging to see so many states recognize the importance of addressing a backlog of needs and modernizing infrastructure to create jobs and remain competitive. To learn more about how your state is doing, visit www.infrastructurereportcard.org/states to find key facts and, in many cases, a state Infrastructure Report Card.
We also know that infrastructure impacts our ability to get goods to market and compete in a global economy. ASCE’s Failure to Act economic study series found that with an additional investment of $157 billion a year between 2013 and 2020, we can protect $3.1 trillion in GDP and 3.5 million jobs. That’s a significant return on investment, especially when you consider that funding would be from all levels of government.
Infrastructure Week falls at a crucial juncture this year. Both state governments and the federal government need to prioritize modernizing our networks of roads, bridges, water pipes and the energy grid. As our state and national report cards demonstrate, we can invest in infrastructure now or pay more in the long run for emergency repairs and replacement.