By John O’Grady
Mr. President, if you want to make America great again, start repairing the nation’s failing infrastructure. I am not referring to a narrow list of campaign applause-lines and temporary construction jobs like an alleged border wall and gas and oil pipelines that have more risk than benefit to the American people. Rather, I am referring to the infrastructure that is the backbone of the U.S. economy, such as bridges, drinking water systems, dams, navigable waterways, rail, roads, transit and wastewater.
Industries and companies of all sizes are risking everyone’s safety by relying on the current state of America’s failing bridges, drinking water plants, roads, tunnels and wastewater treatment plants. Washington is ignoring repeated reports by the American Society of Civil Engineers on America’s crumbling foundation. The ASCE’s 2017 analysis says taxpayers have been paying far less than half of the costs for decades, and America is failing to close that gap. They recommend that Congress and the states invest an additional $206 billion each year to prevent the economic consequences to families, business and the economy.
Just how bad is it? According to the ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, America’s cumulative GPA is once again a D+. In the Midwest, we are no better off: C- for Illinois, Iowa and Missouri; D+ for Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.
ASCE notes that 16 percent of Illinois’ bridges are classified as “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.” There are many older dams in Illinois that were not even issued permits. This is a concern because the condition and level of risk posed by these dams is unknown. Many are decades old, and long-term funding for repair and replacement remains a key issue. Currently, Illinois’ drinking water facilities need an investment of $19 billion over the next 20 years to replace those aging services and comply with safe and modern drinking water regulations. Many of our navigable waterways, built in the 1930s with a 50-year design life, are now in desperate need of upgrades, rehabilitation and repair. An unreliable lock and dam system and inadequate federal funding threaten the future viability of the state’s waterway infrastructure, which is key to a national and global competitive shipping advantage.
Congestion on Illinois’ rail system costs millions of dollars in shipping delays and causes substantial noise and air pollution as trains idle for hours waiting for track clearance. Future rail investment needs are estimated at $20.5 billion. Driving on Illinois roads is costing local motorists $3.7 billion a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs. The estimated need to bring the Chicago region’s transit to a state of good repair over the next 10 years rose to $30.9 billion in 2012 from $26.1 billion in 2010. Our area under-spends on transit operations and capital compared to both national and international cities. Finally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Illinois must invest $17.5 billion over the next 20 years to replace existing wastewater treatment systems and build new ones to meet increasing demands.
Yet, despite these abysmal grades, this administration’s proposed 2018 federal budget continues to be insufficient for the nation’s infrastructure needs. Illinois and the Midwest will suffer for the sake of a border wall. Safer infrastructure takes money. There are no shortcuts. Despite conventional wisdom, the states alone cannot afford the long-overdue repair costs.
Mr. President, properly fund and staff the EPA, particularly its Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which funds infrastructure investment in wastewater and has over $271 billion in identified needs over the next 20 years. Similarly, the EPA’s budget for the Drinking Water SRF needs $384 billion to be adequately funded.
I urge you to address infrastructure in a meaningful and bipartisan way, Mr. President. There is broad voter support for not only maintaining but increasing federal spending across a variety of program areas. Fifty-eight percent of all Americans want more spending on rebuilding America’s bridges, highways and roads (that’s up 20 points from 2013).
Funding infrastructure will put more Americans back to work and provide much needed improvements to our crumbling infrastructure. Please act now, Mr. President, or you may be liable for making America fail.