It is enough that figures across ends wide enough in the spectrum to include Lawrence Summers, the former U.S. treasurer, and Bill Graves, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations lobby, are of one mind: America’s infrastructure is in decay, and something needs to be done.
Nearly a third of major U.S. roads are in poor condition, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Congestion clogs 42 percent of the nation’s roads, resulting in $101 billion annually in lost time and fuel. Annual spending to repair roads covers just over half the need. One in nine of the nation’s bridges is rated structurally deficient. The average age of America’s 607,380 spans is 42. Making the necessary repairs to rid the structures of a deficient rating would cost $20.5 billion annually over each of the next 15 years. The nation’s current annual spending falls more than a third short of that amount.
As Summers pointed out in a column penned last year, even the famously frugal International Monetary Fund — whose acronym jokingly has been referred to as “It’s Mostly Fiscal” — thinks it’s long past time to spend on infrastructure, both in America and around the world.
“Now is a good time for an infrastructure push,” the IMF said with the release of its most recent annual World Economic Outlook. “Infrastructure is the backbone of everyday life, underpinning economic activity. Conversely, inadequacies in infrastructure are quickly felt — power outages, insufficient water supply and decrepit roads adversely affect people’s quality of life and present significant barriers to the operation of firms.”
The American Trucking Associations’ Graves, the former Republican Kansas governor, was more direct.
“Trucking hauls nearly 70% of all the country’s freight, but those movements are threatened by a very fixable problem,” he wrote. “If trucking is our economy’s lifeblood, then our highways are its circulatory system — veins and arteries that deliver life’s essentials to every corner of the United States. ... [T]hat system is increasingly under pressure by congestion, by disrepair and by neglect.”
For Graves and others, the solution is simple — raise the diesel and gas tax and restore the federal Highway Trust Fund. The tax last was raised in 1993. Since then, Graves points out, relative purchasing power for repairs has fallen by almost half.
“This is a matter of importance to all of us,” said Reo B. Hatfield, president of Allied Logistics’ Virginia operations. “The economic recovery is moving forward. We can’t risk that by failing to take care of our national infrastructure. It’s critical to getting freight moved safely and efficiently.”
Congress overwhelmingly approved a two-month extension for the highway fund just before its May 31 expiration. It was the 33rd time since 2009 that legislators passed a short-term fix to keep alive the fund that provides $50 billion annually in federal tax money for infrastructure.