The secret: not investing in or even adequately maintaining our infrastructure and when we do invest, we invest in the wrong stuff.
A survey came out earlier this week that is pretty scarifying:
According to Norman F. Anderson, president and CEO of CG/LA Infrastructure, the survey paints a dark picture for U.S. infrastructure. “We have conducted this survey around the world, and the overall results for the U.S. are some of the lowest scores that we have seen. U.S. scores are on par with Peru, in terms of the country’s ability to develop infrastructure projects, and well below those of Brazil, India, China, and other countries with which we compete for scarce infrastructure dollars and expertise. Particularly in the wake of President Obama’s jobs plan and call for an infrastructure bank, the survey reveals the need for urgent action and a clear infrastructure strategy for the US.”
Anderson wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post that illustrated some of what's wrong with our current approach to infrastructure projects:
The problem is that today in our country it takes an average of 10 years to go from concept to the point at which heavy equipment gets its “notice to proceed.” The Netherlands, not an environmental bandit, faced a similar problem a decade ago, took action and reduced that period to three years. The current process is not deliberate and systematic; it is ponderous, inefficient and deeply dysfunctional.
The 3rd Annual North American Strategic Infrastructure Leadership Forum just wrapped up and brought some much-needed attention to these issues. Tim Kaine, Mark Warner and Bob Menendez all spoke at the confab which emphasized Anderson's suggestion that new projects focus on jobs:
This is an emergency, so focus on the one statistic that matters, creating jobs. An infrastructure project lasts for 30 to 40 years, so when selecting projects we should score three kinds of job yields:direct jobs, those workers directly employed by the project; indirect jobs, those involved in creating the materials for the work, such as manufacturing steel; and induced jobs, those that the project will eventually produce (such as when a D.C. Metro stop sparks new development nearby or a port project brings new commerce). Infrastructure projects need to be scored — and are scored in other countries — on both jobs created initially, and all the jobs created (and the quality of those jobs) over the lifetime of a project.
A focus on job yield will help the nation prioritize those infrastructure sectors that are most productive in job creation, channeling marginally more resources in that direction. Think about it — project investment would have less to do with congressional districts and political favors and more to do with systematically building our future. Here you could easily argue that the Silver Line extension to Dulles Airport would be a better investment than adding a lane to a parallel highway.