Views & Perspectives | America’s infrastructure is falling apart

RAY LAHOOD

RAY LAHOOD

The following remarks were delivered by me at the House of Representatives Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Feb. 7:

We are two decades into the 21st century, and America’s infrastructure is falling apart, and our nation’s economic competitiveness is falling behind.

Decades of neglect and paltry investment have dropped the economic competitiveness of our transportation infrastructure to number nine in the world. In 2005, we were ranked number one. But the travails of our ailing infrastructure are not a recent development. It has gradually happened over time. In the 1930’s 4.2 percent of the nation’s GDP was spent on infrastructure investment. But by 2016 the number fell to 1.5 percent of GDP.

When it comes to investment in transportation infrastructure, the picture is even more dismal with the U.S. spending 0.6 percent of GDP – less than nearly all of the G-7 nations according to the OECD. Of these nations, Australia has the highest investment rate at 1.4 percent of GDP.

Put another way, the Congressional Budget Office reports that U.S. public spending on infrastructure fell by 8 percent between 2003 and 2017. Our roads and bridges are struggling to accommodate the growing volume of traffic. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics shows that from 2000 to 2015, road infrastructure increased 5.2 percent while traffic volume increased 14 percent.

America is one big pothole.

The cost to drivers is real when tires are blown out or a vehicle is knocked out of alignment. The disrepair of our roads cost the average driver $599 in extra vehicle repairs. Almost 40 percent of our bridges were built more than 50 years ago when traffic volumes were less. There are more than 54,000 structurally deficient bridges in the U.S. and if placed end to end , the length of them would stretch 1,216 miles or nearly the distance between Miami and New York City.

It is not just our surface transportation network that is being challenged with lack of investment, it is our ports –– both sea and air. The economy heavily relies upon ports and the network of infrastructure that serves the ports. Every day $6 billion worth of goods and materials move through America’s ports, and U.S. port activities generate $4.6 trillion in economic activity annually as well as support 23 million jobs. However, the lack of infrastructure investment in America’s ports could result in $4 trillion in potential GDP loss by 2025 and $575 billion in costs to businesses and households by 2025.

With the expansion of the Panama Canal completed in 2016, it is forecasted that post Panamax vessels will comprise 62 percent of total container ship capacity by 2030. The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund’s purpose is to support harbor maintenance such as dredging by the Army Corps do Engineers. Since 2003, the HMTF has collected more in revenue that it expends and has accumulated a roughly $9 billion surplus. Despite the need to address the backlog in port dredging projects, Congress has chosen to limit annual appropriations from the HMTF so that the Trust Fund can help to mask the federal deficit.

It is time to ensure that the HMTF’s revenues are used for intended purposes. When it comes to air travel, our skies are approaching gridlock and our World War II-era air traffic control system can’t keep pace with the demand. According to the U. S. Travel Association, within the next decade 25 of the nation’s top 30 airports will suffer the same level of congestion as the day before Thanksgiving at least two days a week. Last year, 1.7 billon passengers arrived at or departed from U.S. airports. The number will grow in the coming years which means that unless it’s addressed, the cost of congestion at our airports will rise from $24 billion in 2012 to $63 billion by 2040.

While Washington remains mired in dysfunction, state and local officials have stepped up and made the hard choices by proposing legislation to increase the fuel tax, replacing the gas tax with a sales tax on fuels or ballot initiatives seeking to raise revenues. Since 2013, 26 states have increased their gas taxes. This has occurred in red, blue and purple states. The electoral impacts of these actions are minimal as a vast majority of them have won their re-election races.

Addressing our infrastructure challenges can seem daunting. But it is not impossible. It will take everyone working together –– Republicans with Democrats, the U.S. House of Representation, the U.S. Senate, plus the President and his team. It will take a commitment of funding from all levels of government and the private sector.

The infrastructure plan must be bold and must be big, which means it must be robust and comprehensive. It surely must be bipartisan. The time is now. The future can’t wait – IT IS TIME TO BUILD!

Ray LaHood



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