As our leaders in Washington and in state capitals across the nation look ahead to the new year, they will be engaged once again in the critical process of laying out their budget priorities. One area of continuing and vital importance to our economy and to the safety of our citizens is public infrastructure.
America faces a worsening crisis of crumbling roads, aging bridges, thriving but overwhelmed airports, ports falling behind the rest of the world and electricity grids straining under ever-increasing demand. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, our nation now faces a $1 trillion infrastructure funding gap. That does not even take into account the future investment required to keep up with growing populations and to sustain a competitive economy.
In its recent report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave a “D” to our roadways, transit systems, drinking water and aviation infrastructure. Our bridges, railways and energy systems did not fare much better. According to estimates, if current trends continue, the deterioration of our surface transportation infrastructure will cost the economy $2.9 trillion and 400,000 jobs by 2040.
In California, the society found that more than 2,700 of the state’s 25,000 bridges are structurally deficient and that it will cost drivers $17 billion a year to drive on roads in need of repair. That is $703 per year per motorist. In addition, there is $45 billion in infrastructure needs for drinking water over the next 20 years. These are critical issues that affect everyone in the state.
Stagnation is not the way to grow the economy and create the quality jobs of the future. As secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the 1990s, I saw first-hand how smart investment could help transform communities and improve the quality of life for people on all rungs of the economic ladder. We built state-of-the-art housing and repaired and developed former industrial areas to revitalize cities.
As mayor of San Antonio – now the nation’s seventh-largest city – I prioritized funding for roads, water systems, parks, power generation and schools, which supported an economic boom and provided the opportunity for our citizens to realize their full potential.
Quality infrastructure is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. This is about investing in America, in our economy and in our children’s future. Every dollar we commit to public infrastructure has a positive multiplying effect. By improving roads, airports and railways, we can move products to market more efficiently. When we invest in our power grids and fiber-optic lines, we can increase the capacity and speed of data transmission, which is becoming the backbone of our modern economy.
Increasing infrastructure investment on a national level by 1 percent of GDP over three years will result in an additional $270 billion in economic output. Think about what that could mean for the countless families who will benefit from new jobs and new opportunities.
For those who argue that we can’t afford to do what it takes to shore up and improve our infrastructure, I say we can’t afford not to.
Henry Cisneros, former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development and former mayor of San Antonio, is a partner at Siebert Brandford Shank & Co., LLC, the largest Latino, black and woman-owned municipal finance firm in the United States. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.