Declining Infrastructure Is a "Stealth Attack"
May 21, 2012 at 7:23 AM
We're doing it to ourselves.
This country's declining transportation infrastructure is often the subject of headlines, then--seemingly--faded interest. The cover story in USA Today's May 21, 2012 Money section ("U.S. Infrastructure Is Ready for a Rebuild; Troubles Masked By Recession Will Be More Problematic in Recovery") once again highlights this key issue.
The article is particularly insightful because it looks at all the major aspects of America's ground transportation system: Highways, inland waterways (locks and dams), ports, and rail. The shortcomings of these links are impediments to the expansion of our economy, and to our world competitiveness. Janet Kavinoky, executive director of transportation and infrastructure for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce calls this "...a stealth attack on our economy. It's not like an immediate crisis. It's something that's sneaking up on us." Essentially, the shortcomings of our systems have been masked by the extended recession.
Developing nations are sinking billions, trillions, into their infrastructure, and the U.S. is resting on its laurels with infrastructure that was built 50 to 100 years ago. The interstate system, once the envy of the world, is now beset by funding that provides for maintenance and little more. Ports, which need to expand and deepen to accommodate the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2014, take 13 years to dredge; Brazil, China and others can accomplish the same thing in as little as three years.
This "stealth attack" has tangible effects on our pocketbook. The article notes that "the worsening delays on Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Dallas, much of which has only two lanes each way, forces regional grocery chain H-E-B to charge about 15 cents more for a gallon of milk."
(It should be noted that TxDOT is currently expanding that portion of I-35 to three lanes using concrete pavement, which has proven itself to be extraordinarily low maintenance. However, I wonder how long those three lanes will last before becoming bottle-necked too, as this is the key trucking corridor out of Mexico? Its enough to make you wistful for the much-reviled "Trans-Texas Corridor"--which would have expanded this critical artery with rail, truck lanes, pipelines, etc. Its failure, it seems, was not a failure of vision or necessity; it was more a failure of consensus-building and communication.)
With the current congressional/administration ministrations and jockeying on the much delayed (since 2006!) transportation bill, I wonder if our leaders are really paying attention to this "attack" of our own doing. Once the infrastructure deficits reach a level of "critical mass" we will be playing a continual game of catch-up with the rest of the world, and it will drag our economy down. Better we fund and improve now, than wait another ten years for our nation to be a second-rate economy because we can't move goods or people efficiently from A to B.
Jan is the executive director of the Cement Council of Texas. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 817-540-4437.