Over the past few years, the issue of America’s aging infrastructure has floated in and out of the national conversation. However, experts are becoming increasingly concerned over the condition and degradation of America’s roads, bridges, and water infrastructure which includes sewers, storm drains, and canals. In fact, in their 2017 “Infrastructure Report Card”, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States’ infrastructure a D+ grade. In 2013, Transportation for America rated Pennsylvania the state with the poorest infrastructure, citing that one in four bridges is consider “structurally deficient” with roughly 19 million people driving over these bridges each day. America undoubtedly has an infrastructure problem which poses a growing safety risk each day it goes unaddressed.
What would a movement to fix America’s countrywide problem look like and why has nothing been done up until this point? Any revamping of the nation’s infrastructure would inevitably start with the federal government, but details have been scarcely discussed despite some popularity in the topic in the last election cycle. However, one thing is for certain; it would be expensive. Based on estimates from the Federal Highway Administration, simply fixing substandard bridges today would cost over $75 billion. This number also fails to consider the vast number of bridges that are expected to become deficient in the coming years, as well as the cost of every other form of infrastructure, from power lines to dams, that needs restored or replaced in the United States. At a minimum, a complete remedy to this national crisis would cost hundreds of billions of dollars. With the federal deficit now over $20 trillion and only growing, it is difficult to find the necessary funding to needed to repair the nation’s highways and waterways.
While any bill from Congress aimed at fixing domestic infrastructure would be costly, some politicians are optimistic on passing such legislation. Lawmakers on both sides of the isle believe an economic stimulus plan in the form of infrastructure improvement would help spur the economy with the dramatic increase in federal spending. A similar approach was taken in 2009 under the Obama administration in response to the recession with mixed results, although the economic conditions were much different than current ones. In addition to this, people like Jim Glassman, an economist for J.P. Morgan, believe that improved roads and other forms of transportation will facilitate trade across the country. By designing and creating more efficient roads, transportation costs for many companies would fall. While you might never drive on a new bridge in California, that new tablet you ordered on Amazon might be a bit cheaper because of it.
While a dramatic increase in government spending has the potential to stimulate the economy, a mistimed bill may produce undesired effects. The last true stimulus bill seen in the United States was in 2009 to curb the deep recession. However, financial markets and the American economy in general has been performing quite well. The implementation of a stimulus plan under current economic conditions may inadvertently overheat the economy and deepen the looming recession.
Although failing to address America’s obvious infrastructure issue is a real gamble, lawmakers have been focused on other matters in recent months. As many Americans are happy with the current state of the economy, pressure to keep up high economic growth may incentivize Congress to seek new ways to sustain growth, like using government resources to revitalize the national highway system. However, it is important these representatives are conscientious of the long-term ramifications of a hasty stimulus plan.