In the 20th century, the United States built the most advanced infrastructure system ever. Substantial investments put millions of people to work and fueled our economic growth, expanded our horizons and made us the envy of the world. But in the years since, we’ve failed to keep up those investments, and we’ve moved from first in the world to middle of the pack.
It’s time to restore our infrastructure through smart investments, which can help strengthen our economy, create jobs, and enhance U.S. productivity and competitiveness.
First, we must pass legislation to maintain investment in our roads, bridges, transit and water resources. And we can no longer afford short-term extensions. Without the certainty of multiyear funding, projects will continue to be delayed, allowing infrastructure to fall further into disrepair and pushing land, labor and materials costs higher.
Second, Congress must ensure that money invested in infrastructure is spent wisely by aligning federal policy, programs and resources with national needs. Lawmakers should prioritize efforts by focusing on a sensible mix of projects based on actual need, not politics.
Third, we need to better leverage private capital. Traditional funding mechanisms are inadequate for meeting the growing needs of our economy, businesses and citizens. So it is imperative that we remove regulatory impediments, state and local laws, and outdated attitudes that are taking an estimated $250 billion in global private capital out of play. By investing that private capital into American infrastructure projects, we could create 1.9 million jobs over 10 years and spur untold economic growth.
Fourth, we can’t allow permitting delays to hold up infrastructure development. The administration should limit environmental reviews to six months, prevent duplicative reviews and forgo them when no significant environmental impact is expected. Accelerating the permitting process would quickly mobilize economic activity, construction and hiring from one end of our country to the other.
Finally, we must act with urgency. If we fail to make adequate investments in transportation infrastructure, by 2020 we’ll lose almost $1 trillion in economic growth. Businesses will see their transportation costs rise by $430 billion, and the average American household income will drop by more than $700. U.S. exports will decline by $28 billion. Meanwhile, global competitors will surge past us with superior infrastructure that will attract jobs, businesses and capital.
Now is the time for lawmakers to set aside politics, resolve differences and get moving on commonsense investments in our infrastructure. It’s time to leverage public and private resources to fundamentally bolster our economy, create jobs and increase productivity.
— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.