Infrastructure Matters — So Let’s Act Like It

Originally posted on the U.S. Chamber website.
By THOMAS J. DONOHUE, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Last week more than 150 organizations participated in five dozen events across the country to highlight a single issue: infrastructure. Representatives from industry, labor, and government came together to make it clear that we can’t wait—we must invest now in our highways and bridges, our air traffic control system, and our waterways and ports. If we don’t, our economy and incomes will suffer.

Here are four arguments that infrastructure proponents should use to make the case for more investment:

First, we must convince Americans that our needs are real and pressing. This should be easy. A recent study by the American Society of Civil Engineers found that there will be a $1.44 trillion infrastructure funding gap over the next decade. And if we don’t address it, exports and productivity will decline, and the average American family will lose $3,400 annually. We also know that poor road conditions contribute to 30% of all highway fatalities, so investing in infrastructure will make Americans safer.

Second, we need to convince the public that infrastructure dollars will be well spent. Much of the anger with Washington started with pork barrel projects. While Washington can always do more to eliminate waste, we need to remind Americans that Congress has largely eliminated earmarks and is doing a better job of getting money to where it is needed most and will have the greatest national impact.

Third, we simply need more money—public and private. Raising the gas tax is not a popular idea in Washington, but a modest, phased-in increase makes a lot of sense. The federal government hasn’t raised the gas tax since 1993. Think about inflation. Think about increased fuel efficiency. We’re not keeping up. Not all the money must come from government, however. There’s $250 billion in global private capital available for infrastructure investment. We must remove the barriers that keep this money from being spent.

Finally, we must beat back simplistic solutions that won’t work. Some think that Washington can just send money back to the states and be done with it. That’s wrong. We have a national system operating in a global economy. We need a comprehensive approach, or we’ll end up with a patchwork of problems.

Infrastructure matters. And the longer we wait to address these problems, the more expensive they will be—and the more our economy, incomes, and safety will suffer.

While other nations have increased infrastructure investment as a percentage of GDP, that figure is dropping in the United States. We can’t fall behind. We must act now.

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