Fixing America’s decrepit infrastructure shouldn’t be controversial—it enhances competitiveness, creates jobs, and helps the environment. And of course, it protects the public. Repairing unsafe conditions is a critical priority: More than half of fatal vehicle accidents in the United States are due in part to poor road conditions.
After years of dithering, Washington is finally showing a little life for the task. Congress recently passed a $305 billion highway bill to fund basic maintenance for five years. But the highway bill is pretty anemic—it barely covers road-repair costs and does nothing to modernize other infrastructure. The total investment needed through the end of this decade is actually $1.7 trillion, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Further, the highway bill does nothing to remove the bureaucratic jungle that makes these projects so slow and costly.
But these two failures—meager funding and endless process—may actually point the way to a potential grand bargain that could transform the U.S. economy: In exchange for Democrats getting rid of nearly endless red tape, Republicans would agree to raise taxes to modernize America’s infrastructure.
Stalled funding. The refusal to modernize infrastructure is motivated by politics, not rational economics. By improving transportation and power efficiencies, new infrastructure will lower costs and enhance U.S. competitiveness—returning $1.44 for every dollar invested, according to Moody’s. That’s one reason why business leaders, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers—normally on the same page as congressional Republicans—have been pleading for robust public funding. As an added benefit, 2 million new jobs would be created by an infrastructure-modernization initiative, jump-starting the economy. That’s why labor leaders and economists have joined with the business community to advocate for it.