Can Obama Rebuild Crumbling Infrastructure?

President Obama elicited some laughs in the House chamber Tuesday night during his State of the Union speech when he said, while talking about the urgent need to upgrade America’s crumbling infrastructure, “I know you want these job-creating projects in your district. I’ve seen all those ribbon cuttings.”

But there is nothing funny about the United States’ failing infrastructure.

To put it in a global perspective, according to a June 2012 report released by the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. fell from fifth in 2002 to 24th in the world on infrastructure quality, being overtaken by 13 countries in the past decade. And according to a 2011 story published in Homeland Security News Wire, the U.S. spends just 2.4 percent of GDP on infrastructure, compared with 5 percent in Europe and 9 percent in China. The developed world spends 52.7 percent more of its GDP on transportation infrastructure than the U.S. does.

“America’s energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire, a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and Internet, high-tech schools, self-healing power grids,” the president said. “The CEO of Siemens America, a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina, said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs. That’s the attitude of a lot of companies all around the world.”

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) will be releasing its next Report Card for America’s Infrastructure on March 19th. ASCE’s last published report in 2009 gave an overall D (poor) grade to U.S. infrastructure. Aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, energy, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, public parks & recreation, rail, roads, schools, solid waste, transit, and wastewater all received C (mediocre) and D grades.

In its final Failure to Act Report released in January, ASCE said it has a “sober message for elected officials, policy makers, businesses, and general public: unless the U.S. invests an additional $1.57 billion per year in infrastructure—drinking water and wastewater, electricity, airports, seaports and waterways, and surface transportation—between now and 2020, the nation will lose $3.1 trillion in GNP (gross national product), $1.1 trillion in trade, a $3,100 per year drop in personal disposable income, $2.4 trillion in lost consumer spending, and a little over 3.1 million jobs.”

At the State of the Union, the president presented two infrastructure jobs programs — a Fix-it-First program to work on the nation’s most urgent repairs and a Partnership to Rebuild America to collaborate with the private sector on modernization projects. The president used the example of the “nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country” in making the case for Fix-it-First. Obama, in proposing the Partnership to Rebuild America to attract private capital, used examples of “what our businesses need most,” including “modern ports to move our goods, modern pipelines to withstand a storm, and modern schools worthy of our children.”

“Let’s prove there’s no better place to do business than here in the United States of America and let’s start right away,” the president said.

Photo credit: MTAPhotos via Flickr

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