U.S. Chamber, other speakers send IWeek message to Congress: Build America, create jobs, do it now

Blog by Janet Kavinoky, Originally posted on U.S. Chamber of Commerce website on May 11, 2015

During Infrastructure Week, high-profile speakers did not pulling any punches. They just stated the facts at Monday’s kickoff event in D.C.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden noted the United States is “28th in the world. That’s 28th in the world in infrastructure.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the hold-up in progress “pure politics,” adding, “This is becoming [a] self-inflicted crisis and it’s not a pretend collapse – a bridge collapse is a real crisis.”

And Tamara Lundgren, chairman of the U.S. Chamber’s board of directors and Schnitzer Steel Industries president and CEO, put the competitive threat into context by using an illustrative example of the country at the top of the infrastructure investment rankings:  China.

China’s investment in its roads, bridges and public transit systems – and all of the rest of its infrastructure – has been key to its economic growth. Lundgren said we need to take a page from that book, move past politics and figure out how to make infrastructure part of a national strategy.

“Competitors like China are not thinking about how to patch the next pothole, they are thinking about how to build the next major supply chain.  …

“The Chinese have an ambitious plan to rebuild the Silk Road–both on land and on sea–to create more direct trade and transportation routes to Europe. The initiative, dubbed ‘One Belt, One Road’ by Beijing, is the centerpiece of Chinese President Xi’s foreign policy and domestic economic strategy. … The initiative would allow China to make use of its vast industrial capabilities to meet the region’s infrastructure needs. … These activities would support China’s twin goals of stimulating their slowing domestic economy and helping homegrown companies compete in the region. …

“If you add it all up, the strategy could help China wield greater influence across the Asian continent, including financial integration and trade liberalization. And, again, infrastructure is the foundation of these expansive goals. To help pay for it, the Chinese have established a $50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. It already has 57 members, including Germany, the UK, and Italy–and plans to expand it to $100 billion.”

Lundgren said competitiveness has long been a talking point in the infrastructure debate – but it has to move beyond just being a talking point.

The competition, as she put it, “is very real.” Yet somehow, with just 11 days until Congress goes on recess for Memorial Day and a pending deadline to re-authorize MAP-21, there is no national strategy.

Trumka noted “it’s time for Congress to build America, create jobs; do it now, do your job.” Amen.

Janet Kavinoky is Vice President, Americans for Transportation Mobility Coalition & Executive Director, Transportation & Infrastructure at U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Tamara Lundgren’s full remarks can be found here

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