President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHillicon Valley — State Dept. employees targets of spyware Ohio Republican Party meeting ends abruptly over anti-DeWine protesters Jan. 6 panel faces new test as first witness pleads the Fifth MORE will take office having campaigned on an ambitious promise to begin tackling our nation’s massive need for comprehensive investment in infrastructure. While we are still awaiting specifics in terms of priorities and financing, there is broad consensus that fixing and improving infrastructure will have clear economic benefits, both to individuals in terms of jobs created and to businesses in terms of improving the flow of commerce.
Trump has always conceived of himself as a builder. It is at the core of his identity. Now is the opportunity to demonstrate that we can accomplish great, transformative projects for the American people in a bipartisan manner.
We are at an inflection point when it comes to infrastructure. With the rapid advance of technology, there are possibilities and opportunities that did not exist when most of our major infrastructure was first built. In looking to upgrade, we need to modernize as well, through innovation such as sensors on roads that monitor traffic and can help ease congestion, and “smart” and interactive utilities that can save power by allowing people to better modulate energy use and communicate their needs so that the grid can respond more precisely and conserve when use is lower.
There has been too narrow a focus on “shovel ready” projects. Investments must be made in the infrastructure of the future, not in simply continuing what we’re doing now. The next administration should have an overarching vision for what it will take to move us forward and modernize the entire system of how we move people and goods through the air, ground and water, as well as how we transmit energy and information.
The Bipartisan Policy Center projects $1.7 trillion in current surface transportation investment needs, $126 billion in airport needs, and $30 billion in needs for our ports and inland waterways. According to a 2014 analysis by the National Economic Council and President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, 65 percent of America’s major roads are rated in less than good condition, one in four bridges require significant repair or cannot handle its traffic load, and 45 percent of Americans lack access to transit.
Our country is lagging behind many of our counterparts—and economic competitors—around the world. According to the Urban Land Institute, the U.S. spends less than 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on infrastructure, compared with 9 percent by China and 5 percent by India. A survey by the World Economic Forum found the U.S. ranked 19th worldwide in quality of roads and 18th in railways.
Of course, all of this means that there is enormous opportunity. Some 14.5 million Americans work in infrastructure-related jobs, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than in education or manufacturing. If we significantly increase the amount of resources dedicated to this vital sector, that number will surely increase.
Most importantly, these are jobs that cannot be outsourced. These are jobs that will put money in the pockets of people who will spend it in our communities, causing a positive multiplier effect.
The Council of Economic Advisors projected that 68 percent of infrastructure jobs are in construction, while another 10 percent are in manufacturing, with the rest in other sectors including professional services. For utilities like power grids and water systems—especially if we are building with the latest technology—more specialized and higher-paying jobs are also created.
The federal government has many tools at its disposal to put plan into action. Public-private partnerships ought to be a part of this. The government must clear and simplify some of the regulatory and statutory barriers that prevent us from fully harnessing the power of these partnerships. Other options include creating a national infrastructure bank and using tax credits to encourage private capital.
Low interest rates in the past have enabled private and government capital to flow towards these projects. As many anticipate rates rising in the coming years, Steven Mnuchin, who will be the next Treasury secretary if confirmed by the Senate, recently indicated that he is open to issuing debt maturing in more than 30 years, and even up to 100 years. Coming up with creative ways to direct capital towards these projects is an essential first step. There are a whole host of possibilities if this can be accomplished.
American businesses would also benefit from this investment, strengthening their bottom lines and creating conditions that can lead to positive job growth across the spectrum. The same White House analysis found that businesses pay $27 billion a year in extra freight transportation costs because of inadequate infrastructure, resulting in shipping delays that leave inventory on the shelf and increase the prices on the products that people buy every day.
The Federal Highway Administration found that traffic congestion causes more than 243 million hours of delay each year in the trucking industry, at a cost of $7.8 billion annually. Americans spend 5.5 billion hours in traffic each year, costing families more than $120 billion in extra fuel and lost time.
By allowing subpar and crumbling infrastructure to go unaddressed, not only do people miss out on the jobs that fixing it could create, but the drag on businesses has a potentially negative effect on jobs that aren’t directly related to construction and infrastructure.
The need for this investment—and the jobs it will create—is an area where I and many other Americans can find common ground with the new administration, regardless of whom they supported in the campaign.
Henry Cisneros served as U.S. secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton and was mayor of San Antonio from 1981 to 1989. He is now a partner at Siebert Cisneros Shank & Co.
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