We live in the age of the angry populace. Everyone, it seems, is angry about something, and that fury is boiling over. Anger over relations between minorities and law enforcement has erupted in riots. Anger over illegal immigration has propelled a bellicose business tycoon to the top of the field of Republican presidential contenders. And those are just two of the many possible examples. No one has to ask today, "Where's the outrage?" It's all over the news.
So where is the outrage over an issue that truly threatens the entire economy? That jeopardizes our ability to compete on a global economic scale? That could limit the easy access to goods and services we have come to take for granted? Why aren't businesspeople and lobbyists up in arms over an issue that strikes at their very ability to survive and thrive?
The issue seems almost as old as dirt. Suggested fixes have been bandied about and kicked down the road on Capitol Hill for longer than we've been covering the logistics market, and that's a long time. So where, then, is the outrage, and more important, the demand from the populace to shore up our nation's crumbling roads and bridges?
As my colleague and DC Velocity Editorial Director Peter Bradley wrote in a "DCV Dispatches" blog post: "Congress continues to dawdle, postpone, pontificate, obfuscate, and otherwise refuse to come to grips with reauthorizing highway and mass transit funding programs. Before heading off for August recess, both houses did agree on a three-month extension of the current law, so at least states had funding for current projects during the peak construction season."
A three-month extension is all Congress could do to solve a problem that has been discussed, documented, analyzed, studied, and debated for over 35 years? Again, where's the outrage?
This isn't just a storm cloud on the distant horizon. We're paying the price for failing roads and bridges right now. How high a price? In a 2014 report titled "An Economic Analysis of Transportation Infrastructure Investment," the National Economic Council and the President's Council of Economic Advisers attempted to quantify the impact on U.S. businesses. "The costs of inadequate infrastructure investment are exhibited all around us," the authors wrote. "American businesses pay $27 billion a year in extra freight transportation costs, increasing shipping delays and raising prices on everyday products." We don't think anyone will disagree that the $27 billion could certainly be better spent.
As for the root cause of the inaction, it's something we've written about many times before. Infrastructure spending is not sexy or glamorous. It's not a hot-button issue that draws angry mobs to the street. It's not likely to spark impassioned debate in Congress or trigger diatribes by candidates looking to fire up their voter base. Not even the I-35W bridge collapse in Minnesota, which cost 13 people their lives, was enough to bring us to our collective boiling point.
The outrage is not there, and based on recent history, it probably never will be.
So what now? In all likelihood, the solution will not be driven by an outcry, but by clear, rational thinking and new ideas. It is time to pay attention to the few brave souls who are proposing new approaches to solving this long-standing problem.
Unfortunately, there is scant reason for optimism that political leaders will ever muster much interest in infrastructure. They're too busy with the so-called hot-button issues of the day as defined by mainstream news outlets. If only they could see the painful reality: that this is an issue truly worthy of our collective concern. And one that, compared with, say, race relations or immigration, offers a relatively simple fix.