At a time when governments across the country continue to struggle to fund transportation and infrastructure, a new study warns that the country's inadequate spending in that area will have damaging economic impacts for businesses and residents over the coming decades.
The study, published by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), projects that between now and 2020, the country will need to spend $2.75 trillion on infrastructure, but expenditures are poised to fall more than $1 trillion short of that mark.
"If we fail to maintain our roads, it's no different than failing to maintain our car," said Janet Kavinoky, executive director of transportation and infrastructure for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "That's not a plan for being fiscally conservative."
The group is calling for an additional investment of $157 billion per year between now and 2020 on infrastructure, arguing that doing so is necessary to keep the country economically competitive.
ASCE officials outlined the myriad of ways that deteriorating infrastructure can impact Americans: unreliable and longer commutes, electrical outages and inefficient shipping processes, for example, all cost people and businesses money, ASCE argues.
"The message is clear," said ASCE President Gregory DiLoreto. "If we do not invest now, all Americans wind up paying more in the long run."
But the case for increased investment in infrastructure could be an especially difficult one to make on every level of government.
Federal lawmakers are focused on deficit reduction and the automatic spending cuts looming in March. The most recent federal highway and transit bill, which was enacted last year after long delays, only provided level funding in comparison to its predecessor. Long-term water infrastructure legislation has not been passed since 2007.
State legislatures across the country are fighting contentious battles over whether to raise taxes to pay for highways, and local leaders say growing demands on water and wastewater systems could be financially devastating.
The report notes that deteriorating infrastructure means higher costs for businesses that rely on the infrastructure network to transport their goods. Those costs then get passed along to households, reducing disposable incomes for families, and thus reducing the amount of money they can spend, furthering the cycle.
The organization’s “report card” on infrastructure -- which is released every few years and always gives the United States a D or D+ rating on its infrastructure -- will be released this spring.