The U.S. infrastructure needs top $2 trillion, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Turning Back to Infrastructure

From NTSB Chair Deborah A.P. Hersman to major construction trade associations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, President Obama, and the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, numerous leaders in Washington, D.C., are calling for making major investments to repair America's roads and bridges.

The prospect that Congress might be more productive this year than expected has to be good news for the stakeholders hoping for a major infrastructure investment program. Several have plans to go beyond MAP-21, the federal multi-year highway funding law already on the books, with more targeted programs.

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has introduced The American Infrastructure Investment Fund Act of 2013, which calls for an infrastructure fund that incentivizes private, state, and regional investments in transportation projects nationwide. The American Public Works Association made its feelings known when it endorsed the 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure that was released in March by the American Society for Civil Engineers and gave the U.S. infrastructure a cumulative grade of D+ -- up a hair from a D,representing "Poor: At Risk," in 2009. And Deborah A.P. Hersman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, recently added her voice to the call for transportation infrastructure improvements, saying America's roads, railways, waterways, and airports are in need of repairs and upgrades.

"All options need to be on the table to rebuild and expand our rail systems, ports, highways, and airports in West Virginia and around the country," said Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. "Frankly, our transportation infrastructure is in bad shape, and we have to do something about it now. Building up our roads, bridges, airports, and railways will create jobs for hundreds of out-of-work West Virginians. I'm working hard with my colleagues to move this bill forward."

He cited the ASCE estimate that a five-year investment of $2.2. trillion is needed to keep the U.S. economy growing and productive. Rockefeller's bill would create the fund within the Department of Transportation and authorize it at $5 billion for fiscal years 2014 and 2015; the bill defines rail lines, marine ports, pipelines, airports, highways, bridges, public transportation systems, and other transportation-related projects as eligible project, with the fund designed so telecommunications, energy, and water projects can be added.

American Public Works Association Executive Director Peter B. King said the report card "shows we have a backlog of overdue maintenance that needs to be addressed to bring the nation's infrastructure to a state of good repair. The investment needed by 2020 across all infrastructure categories is estimated at $3.6 trillion, leaving a shortfall of $1.6 trillion. As a nation, we must create long-term funding sources and invest, improve, and enhance our critical infrastructure," he said.

APWA also issued a statement to its 28,500 members calling on lawmakers to carefully review the report card findings and commit to supporting infrastructure initiatives.

In a post on the NTSB blog, Hersman noted in 2006, 70,000 of the approximately 600,000 bridges nationwide were classified as "structurally deficient," meaning major deterioration, cracks, or other flaws were found. "Back in 2006, the I35W bridge in Minneapolis was identified as a structurally deficient bridge. Before improvements could be made, that bridge collapsed on August 1, 2007, killing 13 people and injuring another 145," she wrote. "In our subsequent investigation of this tragedy, the NTSB identified three critical factors that contributed to this collapse: (1) a failure in the design firm's quality control procedures to ensure that all calculations were performed correctly, (2) inadequate design review by Federal and State transportation officials, and (3) inadequate attention to a critical bridge component during inspections.

She also cited "Fix It First, Expand It Second, Reward It Third: A New Strategy for America's Highways," a report by The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, in which authors Matthew Kahn and David Levinson argue that the roads and bridges that make up our nation's highway infrastructure are in disrepair as a result of insufficient maintenance -- a deficit that increases travel times, damages vehicles, and can lead to accidents that cause injuries or even fatalities. This report emphasizes that to prevent future tragedies, effective investments should be made that put safety at the center, she wrote.

The chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America, Stephen E. Sandherr, thanked President Obama for releasing his infrastructure plan. "As he noted in his State of the Union address, the condition of many of the nation's aging bridges, highways and other essential infrastructure is unacceptably poor. And he is absolutely right to point out the need to identify additional sources of revenue for transportation investments, including from the private sector. We look forward to working with the administration as it acts on the key measures in the president's plan that that were already authorized by last year's transportation law and require no additional legislation, including expanding the federal infrastructure loan program known as TIFIA and cutting the length of regulatory reviews by at least 50 percent. There is no reason it should take federal officials nearly a decade on average to decide whether to allow or deny new infrastructure projects, for example."

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