An article in the economist last week explored some of the reasons behind America’s crumbling infrastructure problem.
The article mentioned the Pulaski Skyway, a bridge that New Jersey Governor Chris Cristie is currently under investigation for by Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as New York’s District Attorney because of the methods he used to try and find for repairs.
While mentioning the Pulaski Skyway, the article could have used hundreds of other bridges to demonstrate the failing infrastructure that is in desperate need of repair leaving officials at the state and national level reaching for solutions.
The problem isn’t necessarily with the structures' design, but with a lack of assets necessary to maintain proper upkeep.
The country has seen two major periods of infrastructure spending that has led to this situation. The first was in the middle of the Great Depression and the second came during the 1950s and 1960s.
The structures that were built during these eras, some of which are magnificent pieces of engineering, were not made to last forever. Many of them were built to last about 50 years. 50 years of pushing off repairs until later has resulted in many projects failing at the same time.
This has led to two major problems.
First, any core pieces of infrastructure, including highways and bridges, are in desperate need of repair and there are insufficient funds at the federal level to fund the construction projects.
The second problem is that not enough money is being invested in creating new infrastructure.
The results are not pretty.
The majority of the country’s infrastructure is some combination of outdated, broken down, and inefficient, even when fully functional.
For an example the article points to the poor condition of American airports. Another area that is extremely underfunded, airports have not been able to keep up maintenance to match the increased air traffic that has occurred over the years.
This is noticeable in every asset of the airport, from parking to wading through customs. Even the hangars are not large enough to accommodate size of standard airplanes, which has damaged many wings in the process. Air-traffic controllers use equipment that is less sophisticated than what is found in the average smart phone.
These problems demonstrate the need for a new importance to be place on improving the infrastructure in the country.
With serious improvements a necessity--no longer an issue that can be pushed down the road--the article ends with a couple places decision-makers can look to improve the situation.
The first suggestion is the hope that state and federal government officials realize the need for immediate action.
One option is currently languishing in Congress, a bill sponsored by John Delaney, a congressman from Maryland, that has bilateral support and proposes to give firms a tax break on repatriated foreign profits if part of the money brought back was spent on infrastructure bonds.
This would give companies an added incentive to return their profits to domestic markets at a lower tax rate, and bring some much needed capital to rebuilding infrastructure.
Another idea that was suggested is to follow the European model and bring in private money to compensate for the lower level of public investment. Securing the right public-private partnerships could be a big step in the right direction for a country whose infrastructure is in serious need of an overhaul. The key decisions that will be made in the next few months will dramatically impact the country's construction outlook.