President Donald Trump, a man who always has a lot to say, has been promoting a plan to spend $1 trillion (yes, that's trillion with a "T") to get our nation's badly crumbling infrastructure into 21st century shape. As with so many proposals bandied about by the current administration, time will tell whether Trump will actually translate his words into action.
The current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is not the first tenant in recent memory who has pledged to fix the roads and bridges that form the backbone of the U.S. transportation system and serve as the nation's central artery for commerce. Anyone remember all those "shovel ready" projects Trump's predecessor talked about but that never saw the light of day?
So, as we wait to see if anything will come from all the talk, it was refreshing to review a policy brief on infrastructure from the Committee for Economic Development of the Conference Board (CED). The CED, founded in 1942, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, business-led public policy organization that in its words, "delivers research, analysis, and reasoned solutions to our nation's most critical issues." CED's work is grounded on seven core principles: sustainable capitalism, long-term economic growth, efficient fiscal and regulatory policy, competitive and open markets, a globally competitive workforce, equal economic opportunity, and nonpartisanship in the nation's interest. What's not to like, right?
Titled Fixing America's Roads & Bridges: The Path Forward, the CED report pulls no punches. "Although America's network of roads, bridges, and tunnels is critical to the economy and American quality of life, it has been poorly maintained for decades," the authors write. That history of deferred maintenance, taken together with what they describe as "a growing gap between investment needs and available funds," threatens our collective access to a safe, reliable transportation network, they warn.
What's particularly notable about the study is its thoughtful analysis of how the U.S.—a nation that once boasted the world's best surface transportation system—ended up in this plight. As the authors make clear, money alone didn't cause the problem and money alone won't fix it. Factors like poor project selection, the politicization of transportation spending, and slipshod financial analysis have played into it as well. These challenges, too, must be addressed if we hope to return our highways and bridges to a state of good repair.
As part of its brief, the group offered recommendations for fixing America's infrastructure. What follows is a summary of those suggestions: