The U.S. has a failing infrastructure and we have to find a way to pay to upgrade it now. That was the reoccurring message delivered during a recent Senate hearing on Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America.
According to the Senate panel and those testifying before the panel, underdeveloped ports, failing locks, constrained rail, crumbling bridges, congested roads and insufficient waterways are all part of an aging U.S. infrastructure that is straining to meet the demands of the 21st century population and commerce. Testifying before the panel, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka provided an estimate that the U.S. infrastructure deficit is approaching $4 trillion.
Five experts representing different areas of the U.S. economy were on-hand to opine on the state of the country’s network of movement and industry. During the hearing there were suggestions on how to relieve stress and congestion throughout the network, but in no way did anyone suggest that stress relievers would fix the underlying and costly need for maintenance and upgrade. Conversely, David MacLennan, CEO of Cargil (representing food and agriculture) stated that the consequences of inaction will have a rippling effect all the way up the supply chain. MacLennan made specific reference to the devastating effect on corn prices paid to farmers following hurricane Katrina in 2005 that represented $3 billion in lost market value.
Like a broken record from previous hearings, the consensus was that the country’s infrastructure is deficient, but funding the effort to fix it remains elusive. The favored method of payment discussed during the hearing was an increase in the federal fuel tax indexed for inflation and a user fee to address those that are less reliant on fuel but no less reliant on the system. Fedex CEO, Frederick Smith stated “the entire country is moving away from internal combustion engines” making the current fuel tax insufficient. Additionally, he suggested the use of RFID modules on vehicles to track distance traveled as a way to calculate the user fee.
As part of his first 100 days in office, President Trump has pledged to fill the $1 trillion gap noted by the National Association of Manufacturers as improvements needed to our transportation systems over the next 10 years. We can only hope that not only will this happen within that time, but it will happen in an manner that brings the country together. That would be Huge.