Hey candidates, what about our infrastructure?

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Infrastructure issues have thus far been relegated to the backseat this presidential primary season. There were no questions about infrastructure asked over the course of the recent, marathon three-hour Republican presidential debate hosted by CNN. This equaled the number of questions posed to the candidates at the first two-hour debate hosted by Fox News, bringing the number of infrastructure-related questions in over five hours of debate so far to a grand total of zero. The candidates themselves, both Republicans and Democrats, have not done any better, failing to focus on infrastructure issues in any substantial way in their campaigns.

Our transportation system is one of our most critical national assets. Infrastructure is the foundation that connects this country's businesses, communities and people, driving our economy and our quality of life.

But our infrastructure systems are failing to keep pace with current and expanding needs, and critical investments have been put off for too long. The American Society of Civil Engineers' Report Card for America's Infrastructure gives America's infrastructure a cumulative grade of D+. Deteriorating infrastructure, long known to be a public safety issue, has a cascading impact on the nation's economy, negatively affecting business productivity, gross domestic product (GDP), employment, personal income and international competitiveness.

If our infrastructure investment gap is not addressed, by 2020, the economy is expected to lose almost $1 trillion in business sales, resulting in a loss of 3.5 million jobs. Moreover, if current trends are not reversed, the cumulative cost to the U.S. economy from 2012 to 2020 will be more than $3.1 trillion in GDP and $1.1 trillion in total trade.

We also lag behind our overseas competitors in transportation infrastructure investment. According to the World Economic Forum, the U.S. has fallen from seventh to 18th in overall quality of roads in just the past decade, and we rank 14th in their overall infrastructure index. Meanwhile, China, perhaps our greatest economic competitor for the 21st century, has invested billions in modern road, rail and air services. We are clearly falling behind.

The first Democratic presidential debate will be held Oct. 13 in Las Vegas and the third Republican presidential debate will take place Oct. 28 at the University of Colorado in Boulder. We challenge the moderators to include transportation infrastructure issues on the agenda. The importance of our nation's infrastructure is clear, and numerous polls show Americans believe infrastructure investment should be a high priority. Voters deserve to hear each candidate's plan to revitalize our highways, airports, railroads and other vital transportation infrastructure assets.

America’s infrastructure is too important to our economy to continue to be ignored in the debates and by the candidates' campaigns. If we keep these issues in the backseat for too long, we'll all be watching America's global competitiveness fade away in the rearview mirror soon.

Walsh is a former U.S. representative from New York, serving from 1989 to 2009. He is currently a government affairs counselor for K&L Gates LLP in Washington. Martinko is also a government affairs counselor at K&L Gates LLP. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of K&L Gates, its partners or employees.