This article orginally posted in The Hill.
Infrastructure matters. It matters to our economy, our communities, our health and our safety. From electricity and internet, to pipes and ports, infrastructure is an interconnected web that reaches into every aspect of our lives. It brings jobs and new opportunities, and it has the power to transform America.
My state of West Virginia is a prime example of the power of infrastructure.
Located in the heart of Appalachia, we are the transportation hub of the Mid-Atlantic. Bridges and highways help fuel our economy, provide access to remote areas, and enable us to transport necessary goods and services.
At the same time, a lack of critical infrastructure brings its own set of challenges. Insufficient broadband and energy infrastructure are two hurdles West Virginia must overcome in order for the economy to grow.
According to the 2016 Broadband Progress Report, West Virginia is ranked 48th in the nation for broadband accessibility. Thirty percent of West Virginia residents do not have access to broadband service that meets the Federal Communications Commission’s benchmarks, and in rural areas of the state this number is as high as 48 percent. In order to attract and retain businesses, we must improve connectivity. But, we cannot do this without the infrastructure necessary to bridge the digital divide.
Last year, I launched my Capito Connect Plan to serve as a roadmap for expanding this critical resource. I am working with my colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and with partners at the local, state and federal level to identify funding opportunities and bring innovative solutions to the table.
One strategy, known as “dig once,” would enable broadband deployment to be completed at the same time as road construction projects. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that 90 percent of the cost of deploying broadband consists of digging up and replacing the road. Installing broadband conduits as part of federal transportation projects can significantly cut costs, make broadband deployment easier in underserved areas and yield a greater return on investment.
Energy infrastructure is another challenge in West Virginia. While we are producing an unprecedented amount of natural gas, a large portion of it has nowhere to go due to a lack of infrastructure. This means producers are not reaching their full capabilities, and American families and manufacturers are missing out on a crucial energy source.
A provision I included in the recently passed Energy Policy Modernization Act, will provide greater certainty around the timeframe for natural gas pipeline approvals, so pipelines can be constructed quickly and meet our energy transportation needs. We must continue removing barriers that stand in the way of this critical energy infrastructure.
These challenges aren’t limited to West Virginia. Nationwide, aging roads, bridges, sewers and highways are in critical need of updating.
For years, Congress passed a series of short-term transportation funding extensions. During that time, states were only assured federal funding for a period of weeks or months – making significant improvements difficult.
Last year, we passed the first multi-year transportation funding bill in more than a decade, which will help advance key projects. In order to make lasting improvements, we must continue to make long-term investments a top priority.
A recent report by the American Society of Civil Engineers found that the average American household could lose $3,400 annually for the next 10 years because of deteriorating infrastructure. The same report found that the infrastructure investment gap could cost the economy up to $4 trillion and 2.5 million jobs by 2025.
In order to save jobs and keep families’ hard earned money in their wallets, we must prioritize investments in infrastructure.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recently passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2016, which makes important investments in clean water infrastructure projects. This important infrastructure bill passed overwhelmingly in the committee and demonstrates the Senate’s continuing bipartisan consensus for infrastructure.
This bipartisan collaboration is exactly what we need to address our nation’s infrastructure demands.
By fostering partnerships across party lines, and between the private and public sectors, we can make the long-term investments in America’s infrastructure that are needed to move our country forward.