By Greg Sitek
September marks the end of summer and the summer of 2011 will go down in history – tornados ripped cities to shreds, heat baked half the country, the economy ended up with the USA having its credit rating downgraded for the first time ever and a new transportation infrastructure bill remained in limbo as this issue of the ACP magazines were put to bed.
Typically I express my views and opinions on something related to the industry and/or the focus of the magazine. While beating my hallow head against a reinforced brick wall trying to think of what to say I received the following press release from American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the association that brought us the infrastructure report card. The debt ceiling and credit downgrade are important but what about our transportation infrastructure…
ASCE releases first-ever report on how U.S. economy and family budgets will fare if America fails to fund surface transportation improvements
The nation’s deteriorating surface transportation infrastructure will cost the American economy more than 876,000 jobs, and suppress the growth of the country’s Gross Domestic Product by $897 billion by 2020, according to a new report released by the ASCE. The report, conducted by the Economic Development Research Group of Boston, showed that in 2010, deficiencies in America’s roads, bridges and transit systems cost American households and businesses roughly $130 billion, including approximately $97 billion in vehicle operating costs, $32 billion in delays in travel time, $1.2 billion in safety costs and $590 million in environmental costs. If investments in surface transportation infrastructure are not made soon, those costs are expected to grow exponentially. Within 10 years, U.S. businesses would pay an added $430 billion in transportation costs, household incomes would fall by more than $7,000 and U.S. exports will fall by $28 billion per year.
“Clearly, failing to invest in our roads, bridges and transit systems has a dramatic negative impact on America’s economy,” said Kathy J. Caldwell, P.E., F.ASCE, president of ASCE. “The link between a nation’s infrastructure and its economic competitiveness has always been understood. But today, for the first time, we have data showing how much failing to invest in our surface transportation system can negatively impact job growth and family budgets. This report is a wake-up call for policymakers because it shows that investing in infrastructure contributes to creating jobs, while failing to do so hurts main street America.”
American businesses and workers will suffer
The report shows that failing infrastructure will drive the cost of doing business up by adding $430 billion to transportation costs in the next decade. It will cost firms more to ship goods, and the raw materials they buy will cost more due to increased transportation costs.
Productivity across the business sector will also tumble. Those increased costs will cause businesses to underperform by $240 billion over the next decade, which will drive the prices of goods up.As a result, U.S. exports will fall by $28 billion, including 79 of 93 tradable commodities. Ten sectors of the U.S. economy account for more than half of this unprecedented loss in export value – among them key technology sectors like machinery, medical devices, communications equipment, which produces much of this country’s innovations.
America would also lose jobs in high-value sectors as business income goes down. Almost 877,000 jobs would be lost by 2020, primarily in the high-value, professional, business and medical sectors which are vital to America’s knowledge-based service economy.
Ultimately, Americans will get paid less. While the economy would lose jobs, those who are able to find work will find their paychecks cut.
“The cost to businesses will reduce the productivity and competitiveness of American firms relative to global competitors significantly. By 2020, American families will lose more than $7000 because of the ripple effects that will occur throughout the economy,” said Steven Landau of the EDR Group. “Business will have to divert increasing portions of earned income to pay for transportation delays and vehicle repairs, draining money that would otherwise be invested in innovation and expansion.”
Families will have a lower standard of living
A lack of investment in transportation infrastructure would inflict a double whammy on American families who would see their household incomes fall by $60 a month by 2020, while having to spend $30 per month more for goods. The total cost to families would exact about $10,600 per family between now and 2020, equal to $1,600 per year on household budgets.
Modest investment needed
The report estimates that in order to bring the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure up to tolerable levels, policymakers would need to invest approximately $1.7 trillion between now and 2020 in the nation’s highways and transit systems. The U.S. is currently on track to spend a portion of that – $877 billion – during the same timeframe. The infrastructure-funding gap equals $846 billion over 9 years or $94 billion per year.
Small investments in infrastructure, equal to about 60 percent of what Americans spend on fast food each year, would:
- Protect 1.1 million jobs
- Save Americans nearly 2 billion hours in travel time each year
- Deliver an average of $1,060 to each family and
- Protect $2,600 in GDP for every man, woman and child in the U.S.
The report, the first of four scheduled by the Society, examined the country’s surface transportation infrastructure. Future reports will examine the state of the nation’s infrastructure as it relates to water and, wastewater delivery and treatment; energy transmission; airports and marine ports.
The full report is available at: http://message.asce.org/forms/FailuretoActdownloadform
This article appeared as the editorial in the September 2011 issues of the ACP magazines: California Builder & Engineer, Construction, Construction Digest, Construction News, Constructioneer, Dixie Contractor, Michigan Contractor & Builder, Midwest Contractor, New England Construction, Pacific Builder & Engineer, Rocky Mountain Construction, Texas Contractor, Western Builder.