May 15-19 was Infrastructure Week and several events were held in communities throughout the country to support building for a better America and to elevate the importance of infrastructure and the impact it has on everyone who uses transportation, water, energy, ports, public buildings and more. Over the course of five days, state governors signed proclamations and partner organizations hosted events on subjects like public-private partnerships, smart cities, water management, supply chains and autonomous vehicles.
In March the American Society of Civil Engineers released their Infrastructure Report Card and America earned a “D+.” Panels, presentations and congressional meetings were held in Washington, D.C. to discuss this overall grade and strategies needed to obtain successful goals for the future. The weeklong event began with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao who spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and outlined President Donald Trump’s infrastructure vision. Chao shared that Trump “has made revitalizing, repairing and rebuilding our country’s infrastructure one of his top priorities.” She said that the administration is prepared to include $200 billion in direct federal funds and that “these funds will be used to leverage $1 trillion in infrastructure investments over ten years.”
Chao added that there is no one-size-fits-all revenue model when it comes to infrastructure projects. “Toll roads, for example, may work well in urban areas, where they generate consistent revenue because of high demand,” said Chao. “But lower demand on rural roads may not generate enough revenue to repay private investment. This Administration is committed to an infrastructure package that addresses the needs of the entire country, urban and rural.” Read more on Chao’s address on infrastructure here.
Local Chambers of Commerce, unions, utilities, mayors, governors, legislators, policy organizations, trade associations, manufacturers, retailers and more came together to share a common theme during Infrastructure Week: “Across America It’s Time To Build.”
Many roads, bridges and other systems are reaching the end of their useful life. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, almost four in 10 of America’s 614,387 bridges are over 50 years old. Around 9.1 percent of the nation’s bridges were structurally deficient in 2016 and 188 million trips are taken daily over deficient bridges. In March, the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in Big Sur, Calif., collapsed after heavy rains damaged the span on Highway 1. Over 400 residents were stranded after the bridge split the tourist area in two. Building a new highway bridge is expected to take six to nine months.
The average age of the 90,580 dams in the country is 56 years. As our population grows and development continues, the overall number of high-hazard potential dams is increasing, with the number climbing to nearly 15,500 in 2016. Due to the lack of investment, the number of deficient high-hazard potential dams has also climbed to an estimated 2,170 or more. It is estimated that it will require an investment of nearly $45 billion to repair aging, yet critical, high-hazard potential dams. Prior to the 2017 Oroville Dam failure in California, there was the Ka Loko Reservoir Dam burst in March 2006 that killed seven people in Kauai, Hawaii. The dam unleashed 400 million gallons of water onto the island. The dam’s poor maintenance, lack of inspection and illegal modifications were blamed for its failure.
The American Society for Civil Engineers’ 2017 Infrastructure Report Card highlights a $105 billion investment gap for water and wastewater infrastructure from 2016-2025. A report issued this month by the Natural Resources Defense Council showed that 27 million people, or one in every 12 Americans, were served by a drinking water system with health-based violations. The report exposes health-based violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, as well as violations for improper water monitoring and reporting, at more than 18,000 community water systems across the nation. These federal drinking water rules are intended to protect against about 100 contaminants, such as toxic chemicals, bacteria and metals like lead that can cause health impacts like cancer, birth defects and cognitive impairments.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report ranked the U.S. as 19th in overall infrastructure out of 148 countries surveyed. Rattling off statistics shows the shortfall, but the question many asked during infrastructure week’s roundtable discussions is what can be done to help address America’s infrastructure deficit?
Last week Sens. Mark Warner and Roy Blunt reintroduced a bipartisan bill to create a financing authority that would provide loans and loan guarantees to help states and localities better leverage private funds to repair, maintain and build the nation’s infrastructure.
The Building and Renewing Infrastructure for Development and Growth in Employment Act, or BRIDGE Act, is being touted as a vehicle to help tackle dwindling federal investment in maintaining and improving the country’s transportation network, water and wastewater systems and energy infrastructure. To help address this funding shortfall for the nation’s transportation, water and energy infrastructure, the BRIDGE Act will establish an independent, nonpartisan financing authority to complement existing U.S. infrastructure funding. The authority would provide loans and loan guarantees to help states and localities fund the most economically viable road, bridge, rail, port, water, sewer and other significant infrastructure projects. The authority would receive initial seed funding of up to $10 billion, which could incentivize private sector investment and make possible $300 billion or more in total project investment. The authority is structured in a way to make it self-sustaining over time without requiring additional federal appropriations.
This week, Congress received an early outline of Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure initiative from a budget blueprint released for fiscal year 2018. The 62-page document, titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” calls for $200 billion in federal funding over the next 10 years to overhaul the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges and waterways. The $200 billion isn’t necessarily meant to fund projects directly, but instead to entice states, localities and private companies to inject $800 billion more into infrastructure funding. That would total $1 trillion, the infrastructure spending figure Trump called for during his presidential campaign.
The budget also suggests a removal of the $15 billion cap on tax-exempt bonds issued to private builders by the Department of Transportation and removing the current restriction on commercial rest areas on the roadways. The plan also doesn’t fully remove the interstate tolling ban, but allows states “to assess their transportation needs and weigh the relative merits of tolling assets.”
Congress hasn’t passed a budget in several years. Instead, they have passed resolutions that continue prior-year funding levels over short-term periods. The next fiscal year begins in October.