$1.6 trillion needed to shore up U.S. failing infrastructure

Published 21 February 2008

Experts say that the U.S. needs to invest $1.6 trillion over five years to shore up the country’s crumbling infrastructure; estimates show that each billion dollars invested in infrastructure creates between 40,000 and 50,000 new jobs, and that every $1 billion invested in transportation infrastructure generates $2 billion in economic activity throughout our economy

Infrastructure, and the need to rebuild U.S. infrastructure, are receiving more and more attention, and rightly so. Terex Corporation sponsored a conference at Iona College, titled “Infrastructure: The Road to Prosperity,” at which political and business heavyweights addressed various aspects of the issue. Among the speakers we noted John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, Susan Eisenhower, Representative Jim Oberstar, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, former New York governor George Pataki, former Michigan governor John Engler, who is now president of the National Association of Manufacturers; former congressmen Harold Ford Jr., and former majority leader of the House of Representatives Dick Gephardt.

Sweeney, in his talk, singled out the Dodd-Hagel National Infrastructure Act, which is languishing in the House Banking Committee. Sweeney said that the bill “may not be ideal and may require some changes,” but it could be an effective model for getting public and private capital to finance major infrastructure projects that would be guaranteed by the government. With the government as a guarantor, such an approach, he argued, “would make it possible for the managers of the $5 trillion now in our union benefit funds to very seriously consider infrastructure capital investments and I know it would have the same effect with private capital.” He noted that any such program “will cost billions beyond the normal sources of funding we now depend on and one of those sources, the Highway Trust Fund, is currently insolvent although the money is needed for program already approved by Washington.”

The American Society of Civil engineers estimates that $1.6 trillion is needed over a five year period to bring the U.S. failing infrastructure to “good condition” and commuters waste 5.7 billion gallons of gas each year stuck in traffic. They have also projected that over 21.7 percent of the bridges today are structurally deficient or obsolete. Estimates have shown that each billion dollars invested in infrastructure creates between 40,000 and 50,000 new jobs. Further, the U.S. Department of Transportation has estimated that every $1 billion invested in transportation infrastructure generates $2 billion in economic activity throughout our economy.

Opening the daylong conference, Ron DeFeo, chairman and CEO of Terex, a global manufacturer of heavy equipment, told the audience, “We know that investing in our own infrastructure will produce prosperity. It will save lives from better roadways. And it will put people to work that want to live in this country and prosper as my family has. But there has to be a will to do this. It is hard work to build consensus.” Keynote speaker Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the president who fathered the nation’s national highway system in 1956, said, “It will take real leadership and a national commitment on par with that we made when building our highway system to address today’s urgent infrastructure needs.” During the conference’s plenary session on “Innovation, Crisis, Response and Lessons Learned,” Engler warned that the “The U.S. will soon face a competitive disadvantage with our international trading partners if we don’t develop a national plan to modernize our infrastructure system.” Pataki said, “So many of us experienced first-hand in the days after 9/11 and in the blackout of 2003 the critical importance of infrastructure in our daily lives. Our infrastructure is too often taken for granted until it is in crisis and that needs to change. From rehabilitating old bridges and roads to move people and goods, to the construction of a new national transmission grid to deliver clean and renewable sources of energy to the grid, it is imperative that we create a national consensus to move forward.”