As Infrastructure Week prepares to celebrate its fifth year, let’s step back and look at where America was when we started. In 2013, we were in the midst of passing yet another short-term and short-sighted extension to the Highway Trust Fund, one in a series of over three dozen stop-gap measures. The gridlock in Washington was starting to contribute to gridlock for families across America, as states delayed projects and deferred maintenance.
Debate raged over the long-planned NextGen upgrade to our air-traffic control system—a step that that many of our peer countries made over a decade ago. Water and wastewater systems around the country were facing chronic failures, with some cities dealing with more than 365 water main breaks in a single year. To cap it all off, the American Society for Civil Engineers gave U.S. infrastructure a D+, citing poor maintenance of existing infrastructure, assets operating beyond their planned lifespan, and projects stretched beyond their capacity.
If that sounds a lot like the present, it’s because it is. ASCE’s just-launched 2017 report card gives America’s infrastructure…a D+.
Yes, we made progress. The FAST Act and the reauthorization of the Water Resources and Redevelopment Act provided some near-term stability for Federal funding programs. Bold leadership in state houses around the country helped staunch the bleeding. Red and blue states alike, from New Jersey to Georgia to Utah – including seven states in 2017 alone – increased their gas taxes. Cities did their part too, with major infrastructure ballot initiatives winning in places as diverse as Los Angeles and Oklahoma City. And beyond the battle for funding, entrepreneurs, engineers, planners, and investors from all sectors are breaking down silos, deploying innovative technologies, and making infrastructure smarter, safer, and more accessible to all users.
But, there’s still much to be done.
Farmers, factory workers, commuters, school-children – all Americans – need efficient, affordable, and reliable infrastructure. As a nation we rely on these assets every day. Yet, they still too often fail us. Goods get stuck in our overburdened ports, slowing down manufacturing and trade; our cars and trucks are damaged on potholed roads, and spend on average more than 43 hours stuck in traffic each year, costing drivers in their pocket books and reducing productivity; our skies are more congested than they should be, and our airports are functioning at maximum capacity; as we’ve seen all too vividly, dams in desperate need of update are putting tens of thousands of lives at risk; water main breaks and poor sewage treatment is causing families’ and businesses’ water to be shut off – and even worse, unsafe. The impacts of America’s infrastructure shortcomings are felt by all of us, everywhere.
Finding the resources, technologies, and political will to deliver 21st century infrastructure will not be easy. However, the two hundred plus organizations that participate in Infrastructure Week are helping to solve these problems – and keep them front-and-center on the agenda of America’s policymakers. As a diverse group that includes everyone from small businesses and mayors to the AFL-CIO, U.S. Chamber, senators, governors, and more, we can collectively work to chart a path forward.
From May 15th to 19th our affiliates, steering committee, and sponsors will lead events, call attention to challenges and solutions, release papers, announce projects, and do more to highlight the infrastructure assets that matter to all of us. For those of you who are already part of Infrastructure Week, I thank you and look forward to working with you again this year. For those who are not, I encourage you to join us. While we may not always agree on all the details, Infrastructure Week is a unique time where we come together with one voice to tell America that it is #TimeToBuild.
Let’s get to work.
Views expressed in posts are those of the author and are not endorsed by Infrastructure Week, its steering committee, sponsors, or affiliates.