U.S. Roads and Bridges Are “On Life Support”

 In Industry News

“Deteriorating infrastructure is impeding our ability to compete in the thriving global economy, and improvements are necessary to ensure our country is built for the future.”

That’s the assessment of the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, a comprehensive evaluation of 16 major infrastructure categories in the U.S. conducted every four years by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). In 2017 the ASCE gave the U.S. national infrastructure a grade of D+.

The need for a reliable infrastructure to connect supply chains to move goods throughout the country is imperative to U.S. economic growth. The poor state of American roads, bridges, airports, and ports creates challenges for all the companies that require an efficient and reliable logistics network to run their business and serve their customers.

So, how did we get here, and is there hope for improvement soon?

Progress and neglect

Many of America’s roads, rails, and bridges were built during an era when cars and trucks weighed less and there were a lot fewer of them. Materials and construction techniques were less advanced than those available to engineers now.

Couple this with decades of neglect and you have a national infrastructure that’s fallen from first place to 16th in the world, as ranked by the World Economic Forum, behind Iceland, Spain, Portugal, and the United Arab Emirates.

How bad is the problem?

A 2014 CBS News report found that one in nine bridges in America (about 70,000 bridges) is now considered to be “structurally deficient.” Ray LaHood, former secretary of transportation under President Obama, told CBS that public spending on infrastructure had fallen to its lowest level since 1947.

“You could go to any major city in America and see roads, and bridges, and infrastructure that need to be fixed today,” LaHood said. “Our infrastructure is on life support right now.”

Inaction compounds the problem . . . and the costs

The longer the infrastructure is let go without maintenance or replacement, the higher the costs — in terms of both what it would cost to repair or improve it, as well as the potential costs in money and loss of life in a major disaster resulting from corroded steel and crumbling concrete.

Upgrading infrastructure throughout the U.S. will cost billions of dollars. Most of the funding for this task currently comes from grants paid out from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which raises money through the gas tax and other transportation-related taxes.

Economics, safety, and hope for a $2 trillion investment

There is hope. Within the last month, there have been bipartisan meetings among leaders in Washington, D.C., regarding the urgent need to invest in infrastructure upgrades and improvement. Most lawmakers realize that something needs to be done quickly.

“Building America’s infrastructure is about creating jobs immediately, and also bolstering the commerce it facilitates, advancing public health with clean air and clean water, and improving the safety of our transportation system,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a joint statement posted online after a meeting in late April with President Trump. “And [it’s about] addressing climate change with clean energy, clean transportation and resilient infrastructure.”

This new focus on infrastructure could allow for as much as $2 trillion to be allocated toward upgrades in the nation’s transportation network.

A Business Roundtable study laid out the potential return on investment:

  • Every $1 invested in infrastructure drives roughly $3.70 in additional economic growth
  • Average wages would rise by $1.34 per hour after 20 years
  • Average annual labor productivity would be 0.56 percent higher than baseline
  • S. businesses would invest an additional $1.9 trillion over 20 years
  • $5.9 trillion would be added to gross domestic product (GDP) over the same period

The time is now

Now is the time to act. Advanced road design, construction, and maintenance techniques are being developed at a rapid rate, and innovations such as 3D engineered models for efficient planning and construction, the best maintenance methods, and new materials that help roads last longer have the potential to catapult U.S. infrastructure from D+ to A+.

Shippers and carriers can hope that politicians agree.

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