Put America first and pass infrastructure package

Put America first and pass infrastructure package
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In his State of the Union address, President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE set an encouraging vision to reclaim America’s “building heritage” and advance economic prosperity in calling for $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure investment. Now, Congress must act with urgency, build on bipartisan consensus, and deliver a bill that will benefit American workers, commuters, and families.

Each American could save $3,400 a year just by improving our infrastructure. From crumbling roads and bridges to aging water systems and overburdened electrical grids, the impacts of having fallen behind are worrisome. Without a focused effort, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that, by 2025, the United States will incur $3.9 trillion in losses to GDP, $7 trillion in lost business sales and 2.5 million in lost American jobs.

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Given the stakes, inaction is not an option and a perceived lack of federal funding is no excuse. According to a recent Harvard-Harris poll, 84 percent of Americans support infrastructure investment. There are three immediate measures Congress can take that would limit direct federal government spending while significantly freeing up public and private capital for infrastructure.

 

First, let’s start by protecting and reinforcing federal trust funds that support highways, inland waterways and ports — the heart and main arteries for American commerce.

The Highway Trust Fund, the Inland Waterway Fund, and the Harbor Maintenance Fund all struggle with significant issues, ranging from solvency to being tapped for other purposes. The Highway Trust Fund, a key federal source for transportation funding, spends about $16 billion more than it collects annually and will go bankrupt — again — in 2020. There are a range of options that have been proposed and merit debate to sustain and protect these critical infrastructure funding sources.

Second, Congress can incentivize private investment in infrastructure.

Private investment can be used to supplement tax dollars and provide a larger pool of capital used to deliver a broad spectrum of infrastructure projects. These public-private partnerships empower public officials to manage projects with greater control.

Since 2010, private investment has facilitated over $36 billion in US transportation infrastructure projects. In fact, today, North America’s Building Trades Unions is utilizing its pension dollars to invest in infrastructure projects across the nation, and we are ready to move forward on additional infrastructure projects spurred by additional federal investment.

Florida’s Port of Miami Tunnel, which introduced sophisticated tunnel boring technology to the U.S., was completed 20 years sooner and 50 percent cheaper because private investment spurred innovation, competition and performance-based delivery.

We also support measures to expand financing tools such as Private Activity Bonds and TIFIA, which have been so successful for transportation, for all forms of infrastructure.   

And finally, the federal government should expedite regulatory reforms and permitting approval processes to speed up project completion, which will reduce project costs and facilitate financing. State and local governments deserve a federal partner that provides a regulatory environment that will spur greater investment. 

President Trump has issued executive orders to reduce the time it takes to get an infrastructure project approved. The challenge is in implementation. Today it takes seven years on average to complete an environmental impact assessment for a highway project. That’s unacceptable.  Government agencies need to be held accountable for achieving the president’s goal of a two-year review and a clear decision.

A bold infrastructure plan has the potential to transform the nation — providing long-term, economic and homeland security, and millions of new, good-paying jobs.

In fact, in a recent AECOM study, 82 percent of respondents say that infrastructure investment is crucial to their national prosperity.

Many of these proposals require unique, highly technical skills. We must ensure our workforce will meet the demand created by these infrastructure investments, but will also allow for pathways into the skilled trades for the next generation of apprentices with a focused commitment to women, communities of color, and veterans. 

These three measures set the foundation for such a plan that would make an immediate, tangible impact. We can reinvest in and rebuild our neglected communities with courageous federal leadership. 

Americans have waited long enough for a federal commitment to tackling the nation’s nearly $4 trillion backlog. It’s time for Congress to come together, and pass bold legislation that extends benefits to all of us by rebuilding America.

Michael S. Burke is chairman and CEO of AECOM and chairman of the Business Roundtable Infrastructure Committee. 

Sean McGarvey is president of North America’s Building Trades Unions.