The Big Picture on Infrastructure Investment


With our final report in the Failure to Act series released this week, we saw the big picture consequences of failing to invest in our nation’s infrastructure. With this report, ASCE set out to answer this key question:

What is impact on America’s economic future if we do not invest in our infrastructure today?

With our analysis – based on current investment trends and expecting funding levels, no sector is meeting its full potential – there are significant investment gaps, or funding shortfalls, in every sector we studied (surface transportation, water/wastewater, electricity, and airports, ports, and inland waterways) by the year 2020.

The investment shortfalls mean that much-needed maintenance and modernization is not getting done, and our infrastructure systems start to deteriorate further. For the most part, this isn’t something dramatic you will notice overnight, but a gradual worsening of conditions over time. Your commute will become less reliable, your shipments will take longer. You may experience more electrical outages and water issues. And these things cost us something.

What we did for this final Failure to Act report was to look at the combined, interactive effect of the investment trends in infrastructure between now and 2020.

It’s important to note that this wasn’t a simple math problem of combining the costs and impacts of previous studies. Rather, each infrastructure sector is linked to one another. For example, deteriorating conditions on our nation’s roads may shift goods to travel by rail or barge on the inland waterway system.

What we found in this new study is that the overall cost to households and businesses of deficient infrastructure grows to $1.2 trillion for businesses by 2020 and $611 billion for households, under current investment trends.

Thus, the investment gaps will total $1.1 trillion by 2020, and will grow to $4.7 trillion by 2040.

If we don’t address this funding shortfall of $157 billion a year for our nation’s infrastructure, we will be faced with the following by 2020:

  • A projected loss of $3.1 trillion in GDP, almost the equivalent of  the 2011 GDP of France
  • A $1.1 trillion decline in U.S. trade value, equivalent to Mexico’s GDP
  • A loss of 3.5 million jobs in the year 2020 alone, more than the jobs created in the U.S. over the previous 22 months
  • A $2.4 trillion decline in consumer spending, comparable to Brazil’s GDP
  • A drop of $3,100 in disposable income per year, per household

And while the investment needed may seem daunting, the real story of this report is that we can’t afford not to.  It’s almost impossible to fully separate the sectors –transportation, water, ports, and the electric grid. The cumulative impact of failing to invest over time and the interaction between modes ensures that deficiencies in one sector will have an impact on other sectors.

Each of our Failure to Act reports demonstrated a common theme – deteriorating infrastructure has a cascading impact on the nation’s economy, negatively affecting business productivity, gross domestic product (GDP), employment, personal income, and international competitiveness.

The message is clear: if we don’t invest now, we all end up paying more in the long run.

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