Connecting the Dots: Improving Infrastructure to Grow America’s Exports

Chicago might have deep dish pizza and the blues, but it also has an infrastructure problem. It only takes 65 hours for a freight train to travel 3,000 miles from coast to coast, but it takes an additional 30 hours just for that train to get through Chicago, our country’s biggest rail hub. This isn’t just hurting business for big exporters. It’s also hurting smaller companies that can’t afford expensive delays in getting products shipped in or final goods shipped out to consumers.

America desperately needs to boost our exports, and to do that we desperately need to modernize our infrastructure.

There is a huge and rapidly expanding market for Made in America goods, but we are in no position to take advantage of it. At relatively low export levels, we’re already having trouble producing those goods and getting them onto foreign shelves. So much trouble, in fact, that the United States ranks 39th out of the 40 largest national economies in exports as a share of GDP.

One key reason for that is our rails, roads, and ports are simply not up to the task of transporting more American goods across the country and overseas. Our infrastructure is, in short, bad for exports. What’s bad for exports is bad for GDP, for jobs, and for the long-term outlook for the middle class. If we want to get serious about boosting exports, we need to start by making the necessary investments here at home.

It’s gotten really difficult and expensive to move goods from place to place. Port delays on the West Coast have cost 12,300 jobs and $112 million in local tax revenue in California alone. At the Port of Virginia, a truck driver has to wait up to eight hours to pick up a cargo load—and that’s just the first obstacle, since dozens of bottlenecks in heavy freight traffic areas across the country create further delays. Goods on their way to production or out for export don’t fare much better by rail—just think back to that 30-hour delay in Chicago.

If you think that’s bad, just wait: The demand for freight transport for exports is expected to increase 88% by 2035—nearly doubling in volume in less than 20 years. How can we expect to meet this rapid increase in demand—which our economy needs us to meet—if we don’t have the infrastructure to efficiently get things from point A to point B right now?

Expanding exports is just one reason we need policymakers to get moving on a real, comprehensive infrastructure package. Connecting the conversations between export growth and infrastructure is one way to help policymakers understand what American businesses and workers already know: infrastructure isn’t optional. Infrastructure is a critical investment in America’s future.

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