This article originally appeared in The Hill.
America Needs a New Vision for Infrastructure
Infrastructure matters. It matters to the families in Flint who don’t have access to clean water, the commuter who’s late for work due to traffic jams, and to farmers who depend on many different types of infrastructure to move their products to market.
That’s why it’s more important than ever, especially during Infrastructure Week, to turn to those people who depend on infrastructure the most for a forward-thinking national vision to shape the next generation of infrastructure.
Elected leaders in Washington have made laudable strides on infrastructure in recent months, passing the longest highway bill in years, and making progress on new funding for the FAA and the first comprehensive energy bill since the Bush administration.
But these steps fail to address some of the chronic shortfalls and deficiencies that still plague our national infrastructure strategy. That’s why it’s time to move beyond the current conversation about maintenance and funding cycles, and turn to the everyday people who depend on infrastructure to help shape the vision for what should come next.
Our policy-makers spend so much of their time scrambling to scrounge up enough money just to repair our existing roads, bridges, ports, utility infrastructure, or any of the many other types of infrastructure. Lawmakers spend too much of their energy focused on patching up a broken system, and not enough time thinking about our infrastructure system’s aspirational goals.
These efforts all but preclude a thoughtful conversation about our economy’s future infrastructure needs. A 21st Century economy can’t depend on an infrastructure system that was designed a century ago, if not longer. And we need a champion for this vision now more than ever.
But as important as white papers or think tank symposia might be, those conversations are limited to the same, familiar Beltway voices who are already acquainted with our infrastructure problem. To change the debate about infrastructure, everyday innovators have to get involved in creating our next generations of roads, bridges, pipelines and power grids.
Our elected leaders often extol the creativity and ingenuity of everyday people – and rightly so. The same country that dreamed up the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway system and the smartphone is more than capable of generating the next Big Idea that could revolutionize infrastructure.
The equipment manufacturing industry supports efforts to unleash this creative potential, because, for our industry, the future of infrastructure is a fundamental question.
Equipment manufacturers, first and foremost, produce the machinery that we use to build and maintain most types of infrastructure. For our industry to remain at the technological forefront, we need our elected leaders to reach consensus about what comes next, in terms of American infrastructure.
But more importantly, infrastructure is fundamental to the United States’ economic prosperity and every American’s quality of life. Safe and reliable infrastructure of all types form the backbone of our economy, and Americans deserve an infrastructure system that matches our progress as a society.
It’s easy to take infrastructure for granted. But it does matter, because we rely on safe drinking water to live and safe bridges to drive to work. And when infrastructure fails, its effects are wide-ranging.
There’s no better time to begin that new conversation during Infrastructure Week, as we highlight just how much infrastructure matters in Americans’ day-to-day lives.
The good news is that infrastructure will continue to matter – not just for the rest of this Congress, or the next few years. It will form the foundations for the next era of growth and prosperity. Let’s unleash the public’s creative potential and use those ideas to shape a roadmap toward that future.
Dennis Slater is the President of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.