By David A. Lieb
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The U.S. interstate highway system, celebrating its 60th birthday this year, is showing its age.
Many roads and bridges are in need of repair or expansion. Similar concerns exist for public drinking and wastewater systems, dams and levees, airports, railroads and mass transit systems.
Politicians generally agree the nation’s infrastructure is in need of improvement.
Deciding how to pay for the work and which projects should take priority is more difficult.
During the run up to the election, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton said a staggering amount of money is going to be spent on infrastructure — if Congress goes along.
Clinton has proposed spending $250 billion over the next five years on infrastructure. Her proposals call for repairing and improving roads and bridges, expanding public transit, making affordable high-speed Internet access available to all households by 2020 and modernizing passenger rail systems, airports, dams, levees and wastewater systems. Clinton also proposes directing $25 billion over five years to a new national infrastructure bank, which she said could support about $225 billion in loans for local infrastructure projects. A similar lending bank was proposed by President Barack Obama during his first term but failed to win congressional approval.
Trump has said he wants to use low-interest bonds to finance at least double the amount Clinton has proposed for infrastructure. In his 2015 book, “Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again,” Trump said a large public infrastructure plan could lead to the “biggest economic boom in this country since the New Deal,” a series of programs started in the 1930s by President Franklin Roosevelt.
WHY IT MATTERS
A reliable infrastructure system strengthens the nation’s economy, helps keep the public safe and can improve the quality of life.
Public health can be put at risk by poor infrastructure. Residents of Flint, Mich., have suffered greatly, for instance, from lead contamination in the local water supply.
In Wisconsin, the transportation budget faces a nearly $1 billion shortfall. Gov. Scott Walker has refused either to raise taxes to fill the deficit or to greatly increase the state’s borrowing, proposing instead to delay projects.
His stance has led to an unusual intraparty rift with Republican leaders in the Assembly. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and others have deemed Walker’s plan an irresponsible political remedy that will unnecessarily delay mega-projects in southeastern Wisconsin.
Vos has said Assembly Republicans are developing an alternative plan and will hold public hearings, the first of which starts Dec. 6.
Commerce depends greatly on the use of air, rail, water and highway transport to move goods from manufacturers to retailers and homes. Poor infrastructure and traffic congestion can raise the cost of doing business, making products more expensive for consumers.
A long, slow commute resulting from inadequate capacity on roads or public transit can put an emotional strain on families. It can make prevent parents from arriving on time for a family dinner or a child’s soccer game or concert.
According to a report last year by the Congressional Budget Office, the share of gross domestic product generated by government spending on public transportation and water infrastructure peaked in 1959. Spending on such projects fell by 5 percent from 2003 to 2014 when measured as a percentage of GDP. Highway spending led the decline.
Officials have taken various steps to try to reverse the trend. Congress broke a political logjam last year by passing a five-year, $305 billion transportation plan. More than half of all states also have acted since 2013 to boost transportation spending through higher taxes, fees and borrowing.
Yet the needs remain great. About 20 percent of the nation’s 900,000 miles of interstates and major roads needs resurfacing or reconstruction, according to one analysis. A quarter of the 600,000 bridges are considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
In a report from earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers projected the U.S. will need more than $1.4 trillion by 2025 for its roads and bridges, drinking and wastewater systems, electrical infrastructure, aviation and water ports.