The degrading state of our nation’s infrastructure

September 21st, 2016

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave America a D+ rating in regards of the nation’s infrastructure, mentioning dilapidated roadways, insufficient waterways and a pressing need for modernization.


The group estimates $3.6 trillion would need to be invested into U.S. infrastructure by 2020 just to raise the country’s support systems to acceptable levels.


While everyone agrees that something should be done, there’s little consensus on where funding should come from and which projects should receive priority. It’s good that the issue is part of a big national dialogue about the health and the competitiveness of the country.


However, when it comes to infrastructure, we talk about it in such abstract terms, like it is just one thing, when in reality, it’s transportation and water infrastructure and broadband and energy of that nature. This all matters, because all of those different sectors contrast in how they are designed, governed, financed and delivered. The ownership between these sectors varies from privately or publicly owned to being a partnership.


The federal government has a big regulatory role in countless of ways; when it comes to overall spending and impact, it’s relatively small. If you take the sectors of transportation and water that dominate the public sector, the federal share of spending is only about 27 percent, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Railroads, telecommunications and some energy sources have barely any federal investment.


When most people are referring to infrastructure, they’re talking about roads and bridges. By just looking at transportation on the surface such as roads, bridges and public transit, the federal government did actually just pass a $300 billion multi-year deal last year.


Although this law sent a sign of hope to cities and metropolitan areas, it is truly going to be up to local and regional governments to start improving their infrastructure.


Infrastructure is clearly a building block connected to a variety of things. As world leaders have conversations around global trade, there’s an infrastructure component that needs to be a part of that conversation.


There’s a big infrastructure component in regards to not only advanced industries and technologies, but also social equity and connecting low income workers to economic opportunity.


Infrastructure needs to be seen as not only an engineering prospect, but as an economic one. Only about 11 percent of the American workforce today is employed directly in infrastructure sectors, which is in freight and logistics movement in many metro areas. Infrastructure depends on resources, but the United States is not making enough investments, despite still being a rich country.


A vast majority of our infrastructure debt comes down to making right decisions about money and finance and knowing where the money will come from. By making the right choices and getting the appropriate funding, the United States could potentially get themselves out of a trench in order to complete with the advanced world for the years to come.