For too long, our nation has been locked in the same stale debates over how to fix the infrastructure system that is crumbling beneath us because of chronic underinvestment. We all know that the system has become outdated, inefficient and unsafe. We know that letting the physical platform of our economy continue to decay will further weaken our recovery and threaten our global competitiveness. We just can’t seem to get our act together.
What we need is a real plan centered on commonsense ideas to move the discussion forward and get the job done.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently unveiled a comprehensive, forward-looking business plan for infrastructure that meets the needs of a competitive 21st century. It is based on five pillars:
The first is transparency and accountability, especially how transportation and infrastructure projects are selected, executed and paid for. Reforms will not only improve the efficiency of our system, deliver better benefits and lower costs, but they will instill public confidence and trust that’s badly needed.
The second is a streamlined regulatory process. The public needs to know that once Congress commits the money, it will be put to work quickly and efficiently for jobs, growth and opportunity. We cannot allow vital projects to get suspended in endless permitting processes or tangled up in red tape.
The third is a more strategic, multimodal approach. We need a seamless, nationally connected system that links all the physical assets and all the transportation modes together. This is where many of the greatest bottlenecks in freight transportation occur — that last mile that connects one mode to another.
The fourth is technology. It’s time to ensure that our roads and bridges, our air traffic control system, and our water pipes and other infrastructure are “smart.” Infusing more technology into infrastructure planning, construction and maintenance has the potential to be a game changer for our infrastructure system in the 21st century.
The fifth is a predictable, stable and growing source of funding. We need to seize every opportunity to tap every possible source of capital so that important projects can get done — and quickly. The simplest, most straightforward way to secure the investments we need is by raising the gas tax, which hasn’t been increased in 20 years. We must also leverage private investment, particularly innovative funding mechanisms like public-private partnerships.
The Chamber of Commerce is going to take this plan on the road through a series of events to galvanize support among policymakers and the public. We’re going to continue to press the case that investing in infrastructure is not just a worthy use of our time and resources — it’s critical to our growth, competitiveness and safety.
— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are his own.