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Infrastructure: Critical to America's Continued Economic Success


The American Society of Civil Engineers addresses infrastructure issues

Infrastructure is critical to the national economy, as it allows production and development, moves people, goods, and services across the country, and allows for exports into the global market. The majority of the nation's infrastructure is now an average of 50- to 100-years-old, and much of it is in desperate need of repairs or is in need of updates to newer, more efficient systems.

A recent report released by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) looks at how a failure to address critical infrastructure repair, replacement, or development across the country will negatively impact the United State's economic future.

The report focuses on how gaps between today's needs and future productivity, national competitiveness, and household costs will be affected if investments are not made now. According to the executive summary of the report: "Infrastructure is the backbone of the U.S. economy and a necessary input to every economic output. It is critical to every nation’s prosperity and the public’s health and welfare."

Roadways need attention

Infrastructure includes highways, bridges, inland waterways, ports, water and sewer systems, the power grid, railways, and airports. According to the report, though some moderate investment has been made in airports, inland waterways, ports, and electrical, water, and wastewater infrastructure, investment to address the congestion on roadways across the nation is lacking significantly.

A failure to address roadway congestion, along with the continued deterioration of public transportation equipment and facilities, ensures future rising costs of goods and services. Surface transportation is already impacting the nation economically, costing almost $147 billion a year due to increased vehicle operating costs, travel time delays, safety, and environmental costs.

Transportation improvements or repairs

Present spending levels for transportation improvements or repairs is thirty percent below the funding levels of 2002, but the number of structurally deficient bridges has been reduced to ten percent, while pavement repairs have significantly improved highways across the nation.

Repairs and maintenance are important, however, capital funding for upgrades and new systems has decreased as a result. Urban locations are suffering the most, with a thirty-six percent increase in traffic congestion in the same time frame.

Gap in infrastructure investment

The report cautions that the current gap in infrastructure investment will have even greater negative economic impacts as the nation's population burgeons to an estimated 380 million by 2040. The gap will widen due to the resulting increased demand on infrastructure services and expanded economic activity.

Impacts are likely to include increased transportation costs, driving up costs for businesses that will then be passed on to consumers through increased pricing, and resulting in reduced household incomes, and decreased jobs.

Costs to export goods will also increase, reducing the nation's global competitiveness and resulting in an estimated $4 trillion dollar loss of the United State's gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025.

Securing America's future

Without capital investment in infrastructure, estimates from the report indicate that beginning in 2016, households are on target to lose an average of $3,400 per year of disposable income due to infrastructure deficiencies. This figure is likely to increase to $5,100 in 2026 if investment gaps are not closed.

Currently, the ASCE estimates that $3.6 trillion dollars is needed to address the nation's failing infrastructure by 2020. The cost will rise exponentially if investments are not made now to secure America's future.

Kimberly Arsenault Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.