There’s no dispute that America has long neglected its woeful infrastructure problems. But as a nation, we will soon approach a key opportunity to change that attitude: the election of our next president.
For decades, engineers, economists and planners have valiantly sought to spotlight the stranglehold that continuing inattention to infrastructure puts on the future of our economy and our society. All agree that there’s an extraordinary problem. But how to attack it and how to fund a solution remains unresolved. Given the immensity of the challenge, a “kick the can down the road” response has prevailed.
With the strong possibility of a Hilary Clinton-Donald TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Milley warns of 'Sputnik moment' for China WSJ publishes letter from Trump continuing to allege voter fraud in PA Oath Keeper who was at Capitol on Jan. 6 runs for New Jersey State Assembly MORE general election settling into the public consciousness, it’s time to focus the discussion on these candidates’ visions for America – starting, in my opinion, with how they will manage and finance infrastructure projects of the future.
Trump famously declared in his Republican presidential campaign announcement that he “will be the greatest jobs president that God has ever created." While he has provided no policy details, when he was asked in a December 2015 debate about his views on the war in Iraq he quickly pivoted to infrastructure:
“If we could've spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges and all of the other problems – our airports and all of the other problems we've had – we would've been a lot better off,” he said.
Clinton, meanwhile, recently proposed a five-year, $275 billion infrastructure plan. “Workers can’t get to work, congestion keeps parents stuck in traffic, floods threaten our cities, and airports leave travelers stranded for hours or even days at a time,” her campaign fact sheet says.
That’s a good start, but infrastructure is more than just transportation and requires much more investment than is being proposed by either party. While infrastructure includes transportation – rail, waterways, highways, bridges and transit – it also encompasses telecommunications, water and wastewater as well as energy, including power generation and transmission.
The right infrastructure investment is a defining opportunity for our country. To be successful, the next administration must double the United States’ investment in infrastructure and leverage new materials, transformative technology and innovations in how we live, trade and manufacture.
Consider an extraordinary example, for instance, that is taking shape right under the nose of Trump Tower and at the feet of Clinton's Brooklyn headquarters.
There, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has just announced the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), an ambitious, 16-mile streetcar line along the East River that the mayor’s office says will generate 28,000 jobs and more than $25 billion in wages and economic activity. It will unite neighborhoods that have been underserved by the city’s public transit, create new connections that no one ever thought of, generate new wealth, and transform our vision of New York. The potential for a project like BQX exists in every city and every state, but a financial structure to bring those projects to life is lacking.
To open the door for opportunities in infrastructure, there are two critical requirements.
First, there needs to be a national infrastructure bank. This idea is not new, but it has never come to fruition. For her part, Clinton's proposed infrastructure plan allocates $25 billion for a national infrastructure bank. At my firm, we envision a bank that would inject a minimum of $2 trillion in new infrastructure investment over the next 10 years, driving up our GDP by at least a full percentage point throughout that period.
The next administration must also create a new office within the White House solely focused on facilitating technology innovation and velocity in project permitting and funding. This is an idea that is long overdue as there are too many agencies with overlapping responsibilities on both public and private projects. On average, the current infrastructure approval process takes nine-and-a-half years, and it’s critically important that this office dramatically quicken the approval process to accommodate the warp speed changes in technology that will reshape the infrastructure of tomorrow.
CG/LA’s 9th Global Infrastructure Leadership Forum will be held March 9-11. We will be bringing together leaders in the global infrastructure community to highlight significant project opportunities and connect the private and public professionals required to make those projects go forward.
The candidates would be wise to pay attention to the challenge of rebuilding our ailing infrastructure. For an administration to truly make America great again, generating sustained growth and opportunities for all of us, infrastructure must be a top priority.
Anderson is CEO of CG/LA Infrastructure, a strategy firm located in Washington, DC. He is also the coordinator of Blueprint 2025, a nationwide 100 CEO initiative designed to build an infrastructure plan for the next administration, so that the leadership that takes office on Jan. 20, 2017 will be an effective infrastructure driver for the country.