On Infrastructure, Funding is the Challenge


In a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Philip Howard, of the small-government reform group Common Good, said that when it comes to U.S. infrastructure, “funding is not the challenge.”

Where to begin? Funding is an immense, complicated, and ever-changing challenge facing our country’s roads, bridges, water systems, dams, and other infrastructure. Our inability to fund our infrastructure hurts our economic competitiveness, meaning fewer jobs for American families.

In the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, we found that the U.S. faces a $1.6 trillion infrastructure investment need by 2020. We found that unless our infrastructure investment trajectory changes, the United States will lose 3.5 million jobs and $3.1 trillion in gross domestic product by 2020.  Simply, funding our infrastructure and funding for future needs is a colossal challenge—a challenge we are not currently meeting.

But don’t just take our word for it. Thomas Donohue, president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, has repeatedly come out in support of raising the federal fuel tax in order to boost federal transportation funding. The American Enterprise Institute, a prominent conservative think-tank, is so concerned about our lack of infrastructure funding that that are hosting a policy discussion this December to share policy ideas to fill our funding gap.

Howard’s main argument seems to be that we need to reduce red-tape. Obviously, over-stressed bureaucracy hurts our ability to move projects forward. As we recently saw with the passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, Congress and state legislatures all over the country are working to make the infrastructure process more efficient. Reforms to streamline project delivery are a key part of the equation.

However, reforms aren’t enough to cover the investment shortfall we face by 2020, particularly for transportation.  In 2015, about one year from now, the Highway Trust Fund will be bankrupt. The Fund supports road, bridge, and mass transit projects across the country. The Fund provides millions of dollars annually to repair and strengthen the economic foundation of our nation. If we fail to act, U.S. highway and transit programs will sustain a 92% cut. If this is not an immediate and pressing funding challenge, then what is?

Downplaying the impact of funding on our infrastructure is shortsighted. The longer we wait to act and create sustainable funding mechanisms for our infrastructure, the more it will cost.

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