Ed Talks: America is Watching & Our Nation Needs to Restart, Rebuild & Modernize Its Infrastructure

“You and I come by road or rail, but economists travel on infrastructure.”

The Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) Coalition has shared this quote before and we need to share it again. It comes from Margaret Thatcher, however the sentiment is spot on for our country today. Everything — creating good jobs, building resilient infrastructure, developing a tomorrow-ready workforce, improving safety, commerce and supply chains, and extending to Americans the quality of life they deserve — is tied to robust policy and investment.

Well-functioning systems, including those for surface transportation, are fiscal generators. But all infrastructure charges and recharges economic growth.

We sit at the precipice of rallying great change for the future. Congress and the Biden Administration say that we need modernization, but the middle ground has not yet been found.

A myriad of voices have agreed that for America’s economy to flourish, a bipartisan infrastructure vision is our ticket forward. We should be a nation of solutions and progress — not grandstanding and spinning our wheels. 

“Poor infrastructure can impose large costs on the U.S. economy. In addition to the threat to human safety of catastrophic failures such as bridge collapses or dam breaches, inadequately maintained roads, trains, and waterways cost billions of dollars in lost economic productivity,” the Council on Foreign Relations pointed out about author, economist and engineer Henry Petroski’s analysis of American infrastructure in CFR’s “The State of U.S. Infrastructure.”

America is currently relying on a federally unadjusted user fee (a tax on gas) to fuel the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) to stimulate revenue for ongoing investment but it’s not enough. Our interstate system was built 70 years ago. Also, disparate and regional parts of the nation’s transportation infrastructure are old, under-maintained, congested and not adequate for the 21st century. From Oregon to West Virginia, and from Wisconsin to Florida, communities are asking for catalytic and long-term funding for highways, bridges and public transportation to advance resources, equitable access, and prosperous business and labor environments.

Federal policymakers have spent months trying to narrow the policy schism between what the Biden Administration wants in an investment package, and what Republicans will accept.

The last World Economic Forum (WEF) overview ranked America’s infrastructure 13th. “Looking at what the facts say and what we are able to observe in terms of trends, it makes sense to use this number to say the U.S. is not as good as it used to be. … That is backed by facts,” said expert Roberto Crotti in a recent story in The Washington Post. He was one of the lead authors of the WEF report.

There is no success, no national or global pinnacle America reaches, by not working together on a milestone federal bill. Our future depends on it.

Dr. Jonathan Sullivan, Director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham, previously explained [that] “China has the capacity, the engineering skills, the ambition and money to achieve incredible things — the longest, deepest, highest, quickest  — which the regime uses as a demonstration of progress towards modernity under its stewardship.” Sullivan was quoted in the World Finance piece, “How China Uses Infrastructure As a Means of Control.”

The most recent federal reauthorizations were the FAST Act (2015), MAP-21 (2012), SAFETEA-LU (2005), TEA-21 (1998), and ISTEA (1991).

The ATM and its members were instrumental in the passage of all of those, and have been leaders in the recent national infrastructure policy dialogue.

Watch ATM videos.

Listen to ATM podcasts.

Click on a yellow state for regional ATM content