Infrastructure forms the foundation of the U.S. economy. Without highways, power grids, railroads, dams, levees, and water systems, businesses could not transport their goods, homes would be without electricity or drinkable water, parents could not get their kids to school, and the United States would cease to be a world leader in productivity and innovation. But despite our infrastructure’s clear indispensability, decades of negligence and underinvestment have allowed much of it to fall into a shameful state of disrepair.
Inefficiencies in our infrastructure affect all aspects of American life. Commuters on our highways now lose more than $100 billion every year in time spent and fuel burned due to ever-increasing congestion on their way to and from work. U.S. ports are struggling to handle increased ship sizes and cargo volumes. Lock systems on inland waterways are crumbling, causing tens of thousands of hours of delays every year. And leaking pipes lose an estimated 7 billion gallons of clean drinking water every day. Together, these failures jeopardize public health, contribute to environmental degradation, and make American businesses less competitive, forcing them to pass additional costs on to consumers.
At the same time, our closest competitors have dramatically stepped up their investment in infrastructure and adopted ambitious plans for additional development. The United States fell to 24th place in overall infrastructure, down from ninth in 2008, according to a 2011 annual survey conducted by the World Economic Forum. What’s worse, under current levels of investment, this ranking will likely only continue to fall. A recent Center for American Progress report on America’s infrastructure funding gap estimated that the federal government is underinvesting in infrastructure by approximately $48 billion per year, assuming a goal of adequately maintaining existing infrastructure and preparing for projected economic and population growth.
But our situation is not hopeless. By coupling increased investment with a number of commonsense reforms, the United States could make great progress toward bringing its infrastructure up to modern standards. The establishment of both a national infrastructure bank and a national infrastructure planning council represents an innovative and promising way in which we could finance and plan infrastructure projects.
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