Transportation for America reports that there are 69,223 structurally deficient bridges nationwide, including 2088 in New York State and 99 in Western New York. In fact, every second of every day seven cars drive on a bridge that is structurally deficient. Dangerous road conditions were a significant factor in 1/3 of all traffic fatalities in last year, and Americans spent 4.2 billion hours stuck in traffic due to congestion costing $78.2 billion or $710 per American motorist.
The economic costs are staggering too. The United States Chamber of Commerce says the nation will lose $336 billion in economic growth over next five years due to inadequate infrastructure. In January the New York State Department of Transportation closed a crucial bridge in Springville due to concerns about its safety and the weeks-long closure was devastating to local businesses.
The time to rebuild America is now, actually right now. The cost of borrowing money is at a historic low rate. The New York Times has reported that interest rates on five year debt is less than one percent and the Treasury Department is considering implementing negative interest rates, meaning investors will actually pay the federal government to buy United States debt.
America cannot afford not to nation build now. The question is not whether to undertake this work; public infrastructure is a public responsibility. The real question is when to undertake this work. In addition to historically low rates of borrowing, the “cost acceleration” of delaying road and bridge repair increases by 500% after only two years. Put simply, a $1 million road repair project today not undertaken will cost $5 million in 2014. A $5 million bridge repair project will cost $25 million in 2014.
What’s more, a 5 year $1.2 trillion program would create such robust economic activity that it would generate an additional $592 billion in federal tax revenues. That is to say our country would be purchasing $1.2 trillion in needed upgrades for a net cost of only $608 billion, nearly half off.
The United States recently spent $76 billion rebuilding the infrastructure of Afghanistan (population 30 million) and $63 billion rebuilding Iraq (population 27 million). Both of these nation building efforts were deficit financed and, as they mostly took money out the American economy, actually undermined economic and employment growth.
And for America (pop. 300 million), House Republicans’ are proposing a five-year $260 billion transportation bill, or $52 billion each year for the next five years on average – less in any given year than we spent in Iraq or Afghanistan. A more robust America transportation infrastructure plan is needed to fix our nation’s roads and bridges, put American’s back to work and grow the economy.
Rebuilding the nation’s roads and bridges will put Americans, including our returning veterans, back to work and will support private-sector American businesses by purchasing labor, materials and equipment. Construction trade jobs average approximately $70,000 a year and these jobs can’t be outsourced to China or Mexico.
The Department of Defense sponsored a “Helmets to Hardhats” program to accelerate apprenticeship training and job placement for returning Veterans. “Helmets to Hardhats” is now a non-profits organization working with fifteen construction trade unions and 80,000 private contractors and businesses. The current unemployment rate for returning Veterans’ under the age 24 is an unacceptably high 38%. This proposal carries on this legacy by requiring that the grants encourage the training and employment of veterans.
Let’s put America and America’s returning veterans back to work rebuilding the great nation they defended in Iraq and Afghanistan. Doing this is good for the nation and the nation’s economy and will in the most meaningful way say, on behalf of a grateful nation, thank you for your service.
Rep. Higgins (D-N.Y.) serves on the House Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security committees.