America's Infrastructure Gets a D+


There’s an old joke about engineers: If you fail your basic courses, it’s no big deal – the bridge just falls down.

Unfortunately, according to a new report from the American Society of Civil Engineers, the joke is on us. In their quadrennial Report on American Infrastructure, ASCE gives our roads, bridges, water and energy networks a D+. 

On a very basic level, this is bad news because no one wants a bridge to fall down, certainly not while people might be on it or underneath it. 

However, the more concerning element of our declining infrastructure is the impact it has on our economy.  Crumbling infrastructure makes it difficult for entrepreneurs to thrive. Investing in infrastructure is critical to modernize regional economies around the United States and to increase America’s competitiveness in the 21st century global economy.

Building America’s Future co-chair and former Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell said ‘What our competitors are spending on infrastructure should make us feel ashamed.’ Rendell continued ‘For America to stay competitive in a global economy, we must significantly improve our energy, transportation and water systems.’

The tiny kernel of good news in this report is our infrastructure has actually gotten slightly better over the past four years, inching up to a D+ from a D. However, to really make progress on this front in the near term, we need to invest heavily on infrastructure on a national level. Implementing President Obama’s Fix It First agenda would be an excellent place to start. The President’s plan calls for $50 billion to spend on backlogged maintenance for transportation projects across America. 

Developing a national infrastructure bank is another important step to fixing America’s infrastructure problem in the mid-term. Not surprisingly, Congress is seemingly paralyzed on this issue (as well as many others), despite the clear cut economic benefits.

Lastly, investing in innovation infrastructure as spelled out in Acceleration 2.0. In addition to roads and bridges, we need to redefine infrastructure to include the wide range of investments that can modernize our economy: replacing our archaic electrical grid with a smart grid, replacing aging coal fired power plants with 21st century renewable energy, providing broadband or wifi to every home and business in America, and building a network of venture development organizations to more quickly move research from the lab bench to the marketplace.

Our aging infrastructure is an anchor, dragging us downward. Fortunately, we know what we can do to fix it. We just need a little leadership.