Economy & Budget

A path forward on infrastructure

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Given the numerous partisan fights engulfing Washington these days, it is understandable that so many Americans wonder if there is anything of importance that the two parties can agree upon. While it may not always lead the nightly news or make the front pages, there is a real opportunity for a bipartisan breakthrough on rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure.

Our nation needs roughly $3 trillion in infrastructure investment. The cost of this neglect is slow economic growth, weakened global competitiveness, and diminished quality of life. The solution is to dramatically increase our national investment in transportation, ports, water systems, energy transmission, and the digital economy. Republicans and Democrats naturally have different preferences on how to finance these investments — Republicans generally favor a heavier reliance on private financing while Democrats focus on public financing.

Everyone who has seriously examined the challenge of rebuilding the nation understands that the solution requires both public and private investment. The magnitude of the need demands that we motivate investment from the widest possible array of sources — both public and private.

{mosads}Moreover, infrastructure projects face different funding challenges and should have available to them as broad a suite of options as possible. In many cases, the answer can be found with more avenues and opportunities for private investment. However, private investment may not be the best fit for every project which speaks to the need for a continued public commitment to infrastructure. With a little skillful negotiation, policy makers can develop a balanced and effective program.


Not surprisingly, the best path forward doesn’t fit into the rigid ideologies of the extremes of either party. Those on the far left deride incentives for private financing as “corporate welfare.” Meanwhile, those on the far right oppose any public financing. Progress requires incorporating the best ideas of both parties.

In an effort to anchor a productive national debate, several organizations from the left, right and center have joined together to create the Coalition to Modernize American Infrastructure. Our coalition is led by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Executive Council on Infrastructure, the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Governors Association, North America’s Building Trades Unions, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Our coalition has coalesced around four core principles. First, infrastructure — including transportation, energy, broadband, water and wastewater — must be a national priority in order to ensure future economic prosperity. Second, robust, reliable, long-term federal funding is essential. Third, the United States should unleash the resources of the private sector as partners in addressing our infrastructure needs. Fourth, the nation should adopt policies to deliver modern infrastructure more quickly and at less cost.

We recognize that private investment alone cannot meet our $3 trillion infrastructure need, but there is far more that the private sector can do if provided effective support and incentives. From the Port Miami Tunnel to Portland’s Airport light rail to the replacement of New York’s Goethals Bridge, public-private partnerships have succeeded in building projects that would otherwise not exist. In Virginia, public-private partnerships are building new roads to relieve some of the worst congestion in the country. In Pennsylvania, a private consortium is using a combination of its own capital and federally-supported bonds to rebuild and maintain 558 small bridges, many in rural areas.

Water and wastewater utilities are seeing the benefits of partnering with the private sector too, turning over not only the construction and daily operations of both new and aging facilities and systems but their ongoing maintenance and upkeep while retaining system oversight. We must build on these examples and develop a pipeline of projects that can utilize private capital and innovation.

Regardless of the funding or financing mechanisms, we also need to get smarter about infrastructure investment at all levels of government. Federal infrastructure programs should require an objective analysis of all financing and delivery options, overall lifecycle costs, and an inventory of assets before a project moves ahead. Only then can we ensure projects have a public benefit and that all parties fully understand not just the construction costs, but also the long-term costs of operations and maintenance.  Further, efforts to expedite federal permitting and review should continue.

America needs better infrastructure, delivered faster, and at less cost. Our coalition believes we can achieve those goals with a mix of both public and private resources. An infrastructure package that incorporates both would be a win for the administration, a win for Congress — and a win for the American people.

Eric Cantor served as U.S. House majority leader during the 112th Congress. He served as the U.S. Representative from Virginia’s 7th District from 2001 to 2014. He is a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Executive Council on Infrastructure.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Budget Congress economy Eric Cantor Government Infrastructure White House
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