Infrastructure 2010: Investment Imperative warns that further delay risks impeding sustained economic recovery and means losing additional ground to countries in Asia and the European Union. These nations continue to implement long-range programs to integrate rail, road, transit, airport, and seaport networks to serve major economic hubs, employing state-of-the- art technologies and systems. Despite coping with recessionary fallout they can front-load stimulus spending on national and regional infrastructure initiatives already underway—expanding high speed rail networks, and expediting energy and water projects.
A Path Forward
In the absence of immediate funding solutions, the Obama Administration takes some important initial steps to break down planning barriers between federal agencies responsible for infrastructure related programs—Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency. This more concerted policymaking approach could lead to developing national and regional strategies for helping America’s primary metropolitan areas cope with urbanizing suburbs, traffic congestion, and aging or inadequate water, sewer, and power systems. But more needs to be done.
Addressing the Water Challenge
While transportation related issues and energy needs typically dominate infrastructure agendas, ensuring water availability and maintaining water quality also require immediate attention to manage supply and demand. No one can take water for granted. Every U.S. region—including fast growing metropolitan areas in arid Western states and established cities in more fertile zones—faces costly challenges to husband and deliver this precious and essential resource. Federal and state governments must consider how to allocate supplies among competing users–residential, industry, and agri-business–as the impacts of climate change and increasing population accelerate the urgency of dealing with the water challenge.
Changing How We Pay
How to pay for infrastructure remains a daunting quandary for most countries, particularly the United States, where decades of underfunding now forces massive catch-up by deficit-constrained federal, state and local governments. The likely future funding course involves raising revenues from more and higher user fees tied directly to providing necessary investment capital for infrastructure systems, rather than reliance on general taxes, which distort and hide costs from the public. More public/private partnerships can help finance infrastructure development and operate systems. A National Infrastructure Bank could also help align government and private investor interests, and attract greater private capital. Innovative tolling technologies and smart meters can help users gauge and manage expenses directly related to transportation, water and energy, encouraging more efficient and less costly lifestyle and business decisions. In turn, enhanced revenue sources should help ensure Americans have safe, vanguard systems to promote commercial growth and meet quality of life expectations.
The Investment Imperative
Investing in infrastructure—done well and strategically—can help ensure increasing prosperity and the rising standards of living that Americans have come to expect. Countries around the world—China, India, and those in Europe—understand the infrastructure investment imperative and are building the transportation, water, and energy systems that will grow their economies for future generations. The U.S. must find the leadership, the will, and the resources to do the same.