Congress should support a national infrastructure policy

That president was Ronald Reagan, and the broadcast took place in 1982.

30 years later, we continue to struggle applying Reagan’s common sense approach to our national infrastructure policy.

Every day, Americans suffer the consequences of our country’s deteriorating infrastructure—waterways, railroads, highways, transit, and aviation. How long is the average American stuck in traffic each day? Every extra minute you sit in your car wastes time and gas money, plus it increases future maintenance costs on your vehicle. Think about other factors that affect your productivity. What about delays on public transportation? Or delayed flights? The electricity that powers your home, the water that comes out of your faucet and the groceries you buy at the supermarket—all grow more expensive as our infrastructure becomes less efficient. The average American household loses $3,000 a year in disposable income due to deficient infrastructure. That’s money lost that you could use for several house payments, college tuition, or retirement. And yet, it seems to be a problem most of us are willing to ignore.

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This spring, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) graded our nation’s infrastructure a dismal D+. While the report didn’t necessarily grab headlines, the collapse of the Skagit River Bridge on Interstate-5 a few weeks later certainly did. The current trend of putting off action until it’s too late needs to end, and soon, before someone is seriously hurt or worse. If bridge collapses are becoming commonplace in the news today, imagine the problems our failing infrastructure will create down the road if left unattended. A decade from now, will we be able to say we made the decisions necessary to benefit the United States of tomorrow? The way things stand now, we certainly won’t. According to the Federal Highway Administration, our roads and highways require an investment of $170 billion annually to significantly improve conditions and performance but currently receive only $91 billion each year. That is just one example of the widespread underfunding that impacts all facets of our transportation infrastructure. ASCE predicts our economy will lose $3.1 trillion in aggregate GDP by 2020 if current infrastructure investment trends continue, resulting in the loss of 3.5 million jobs. And, as Reagan realized, delaying action only raises costs further. In 2009 ASCE estimated it would cost $2.2 trillion to repair our infrastructure adequately. Today, just three years later, that number is $500 billion higher.

So how do we begin to close our staggering infrastructure funding gap? Currently, state and local governments supply close to 75 percernt of total infrastructure spending in the U.S., while the feds contribute a mere 25 percent. In order to complete projects that are truly national in scope, the federal government needs to step up. Asking the federal government to invest in our national infrastructure is not an unprecedented request—in fact, it’s a constitutional obligation.

Americans deserve a strong, healthy infrastructure. We work too hard to see our efforts wasted by inefficient transportation systems. It’s time to communicate this need more effectively to the federal government. America’s largest infrastructure associations, representing air, railroad, waterways, construction, and trucking, have come together in an unprecedented way to help educate citizens and lawmakers about our federal government’s essential obligation to invest in our infrastructure. Our mission is to increase our nation’s efficiency, productivity, and global competitiveness. Let’s not wait another thirty years to fight for the infrastructure we need.

Peters is a former U.S. Secretary of Transportation under George W. Bush and current vice-chair of America’s Infrastructure Alliance. Loveng is a former chief of staff to Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and is the president and chairman of America’s Infrastructure Alliance. 

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