Federal Investment in Infrastructure: A Mutually Beneficial Relationship


America’s infrastructure network is the backbone of our economy. Every day, our roads, bridges, rails, inland waterways, transit systems and more move millions of people and goods from origin to destination. Infrastructure enables us to get to work, school, and leisure activities, and facilitates trade.

The role infrastructure plays in supporting the economy and preserving our quality of life was well understood by the Founding Fathers. These men codified the federal role in infrastructure through Article 1 of the Constitution, which gives Congress jurisdiction over matters relating to interstate commerce. Washington’s role in infrastructure was further affirmed in the 1950s and 1960s, when President Eisenhower and Congress authorized the Interstate Highway System.

In the coming days, the Trump Administration plans to release a detailed set of principles on how to improve our current-day infrastructure. The release of these priorities is timely; the ACSE Infrastructure Report Card estimates that between 2016 and 2025, the gap between what our infrastructure needs and what we are spending will be $2 trillion.

Subsequent legislation introduced by Congress, which will likely build from the Trump Administration’s principles, must address this $2 trillion investment gap in a meaningful way, by providing robust federal funding. Such funding is mutually beneficial; federal investment spurs economic development. Investment in national park infrastructure, for example, supports economies in rural “gateway” towns nearby, as tourists spend money at restaurants and bars, grocery and convenience stores, lodging and gas stations. Freight infrastructure investment is an economic multiplier, and finished projects yield benefits to an entire region or the nation as a whole.

The economy and Americans’ quality of life stand to benefit from substantial federal investment through an infrastructure bill. Such funding should be directed through existing programs that have proven to be effective, such as the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program, TIGER grants, and many others. Legislation should also include a long-term fix for the chronically insolvent Highway Trust Fund, which relies on revenue from a gas tax that has not been raised in since 1993.

Of course, federal investment is only one portion of the partnership. States, localities, and the private sector should work together to increase overall investment in infrastructure. Fortunately, many states and localities have already acted. Over the past five years, 26 states have raised their gas and diesel fuel taxes. In 2017, voters approved more than 80% of transportation investment ballot measures across 20 states, according to analysis conducted by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association’s Transportation Investment Advocacy Center. These new dollars are helpful, but their effectiveness is multiplied when a partnership with the federal government is forged.

For more information about how investment can begin to solve our infrastructure challenges, visit the ASCE Infrastructure Report Card investment solutions page.

This post is part of a series in anticipation of a White House proposal on infrastructure investment. Read part one of the series on ASCE’s Principles for Infrastructure Investment here.  

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