By Paul P. Skoutelas
Recently, the world learned yet again that inadequate investment in infrastructure—roads, bridges, tunnels, and railways—can have tragic consequences.
This time, those consequences befell the people of Genoa, Italy, where the collapse of a 51-year-old bridge killed 43 people. Area residents had long expressed concern about the bridge’s structural integrity. For years, blocks of concrete had been falling from the span onto their cars. Yet only the bare minimum of maintenance appears to have been performed.
The tragedy in Italy should serve as a wake-up call in the United States. Plenty of bridges, tunnels, railways, and roads in this country are deteriorating. Our leaders must make the investments necessary to restore our infrastructure—and prevent a similar catastrophe here.
Simply put, our nation’s infrastructure is failing. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) most recent report card gave the overall condition of American infrastructure a D+. Bridges, specifically, received a C+— a bit better, but not exactly glowing.
In fact, public transit needs more investment than any other infrastructure sector. ASCE has graded the condition of the public transportation network as a D-, teetering on failing.
This lack of investment over the years in America’s public transportation infrastructure has made modernizing these systems an enormous challenge for local public transit officials. For example, this past summer, Metrorail officials in the nation’s capital had no choice but to address essential maintenance to overcome decades of America’s underinvestment in our local public transit systems. As a result, riders have had to cope with planned partial shutdowns.
That’s largely a function of inadequate funding. Public transportation accounted for over 10 billion trips last year. Yet, public transit systems are chronically underfunded. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, public transit needs more than $90 billion to bring our aging systems to a state of good repair. Failing to address this backlog results in a loss of $340 billion in business revenue to the U.S. economy over a six-year period.
Fortunately, Congress has begun to act. Earlier this year, Congress appropriated more than $16.3 billion for public transportation and intercity passenger rail construction. This summer, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have advanced transportation funding bills that build upon this critical investment.
Such investments in public transportation rebound across the American economy. Seventy-one percent of government funding for public transit flows to the private-sector. Those dollars support millions of jobs.
All told, investing to restore the nation’s public transit systems to a state of good repair would create 162,000 new jobs and generate over $180 billion in economic activity over a six-year period.
The American public is on board with such public investment. More than six in 10 Americans told Gallup last year that they supported the Trump Administration’s call for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending. It’s among the most popular items on the President’s governing agenda. In addition, a survey by the Mineta Transportation Institute shows that 74 percent of Americans want Congress to increase federal investment in public transportation.
We don’t need any more wake-up calls like the catastrophe in Italy. Our elected leaders must increase investment in our nation’s transportation infrastructure.
(Paul P. Skoutelas is president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association.)