Are we there yet?

It’s Time to Get Serious About Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure

May 16, 2016

Summertime in America invites us to get outdoors, make lemonade and arrange family trips to the beach. This year, as you take to the roads, rails, skies and waterways, consider how well your infrastructure is working for you, in measures of efficiency, safety and quality. Are we there yet?

If you pay attention, you’ll realize we’re far from it. Tweets and traffic alerts attest to summer fun detoured by accidents, overcrowded highways and storm flooding; all reminders of the high price we pay for our nation’s deficient infrastructure.

It’s getting harder to remember the time when America’s roads, bridges and waterways set the world standard for first-rate infrastructure in the mid-20th century; when our public systems could be counted on for expeditious transport, premium water quality and treatment that improved our rivers and streams. At that time, we were in the fast lane. The U.S. economy was booming, with steady, robust infrastructure investment to keep these assets modern and safe.

As that investment eroded, so did the state of our infrastructure, which has impaired public safety, and our very quality of life. The nation’s economic stagnation points to the greater cost of our infrastructure shortcomings. Not only are we not getting our money’s worth; we remain stuck in the slow lane.


Last year, the CEOs of Business Roundtable detailed the costs and effects of this neglect in a report, Road to Growth: The Case for Investing in America’s Transportation Infrastructure.

Among the key findings, the report spotlighted that the United States’ deteriorating infrastructure — once the envy of the world — now ranks 16th worldwide. For example, urban highway congestion cost the U.S. economy more than $120 billion in 2011, and lock delays, port congestion and lack of facilities for larger ships added $33 billion to the cost of U.S. products in 2010. Only 25 percent of transit rail station infrastructure is rated “good” or “excellent,” and aviation congestion and delays cost the economy $24 billion in 2012.

Much of America’s water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life as well. The American Society of Engineers gives our national wastewater infrastructure a ‘D.’ Meanwhile, our nation’s outdated water systems inflate costs for U.S. products by $33 billion a year — a distinct disadvantage in the competitive global market.

It won’t be long before the rifts in America’s infrastructure give way. According to our report, continued underinvestment will expand the gap between projected investment needs and projected investment levels to a staggering $1.1 trillion by 2020.

As a nation, we possess the resources and options to turn this situation around — starting with a robust commitment to invest in our public infrastructure. The good news is that this investment will benefit the U.S. economy by greater measures for years to come. As cited in our report, every $1 of investment in infrastructure generates an additional $3 in economic activity.

The Business Roundtable notes that an $83 billion package would create 1.7 million new jobs over three years. And if U.S. infrastructure investment were increased by 1 percent of GDP per year, our economy would realize a return of nearly $320 billion in additional output by 2020.

Let our national leaders know that it’s time to say “yes” to infrastructure investment. Summer is upon us, and we’ve been stuck in the slow lane for too long.

The full Business Roundtable report is available here.