Making infrastructure globally competitive is a critical issue for business and political leaders today. In the US, we have known for a while that our infrastructure is crumbling. We need to act fast in order to rebuild and upgrade our broken roads, bridges, transport systems and public works.
Despite being the richest country in the world, the US ranks only 11th for infrastructure competitiveness, according to the World Economic Forum. It will take billions of dollars to upgrade our failing systems. This may seem daunting, but I believe rebuilding our infrastructure is the best way to ensure shared growth and prosperity for ourselves and future generations.
Now tax reform has been accomplished, infrastructure could be next on the agenda for Congress and the administration. It is a subject on which both Republicans and Democrats can agree, hopefully. But we are not yet having the right conversations about how to rebuild.
For decades, whenever we have embarked on infrastructure projects, the goals have been to:
- Rehabilitate the broken
- Modernize the outdated
- Streamline the traditional
- Decrease waste and fuel consumption
- Reduce consumer and maintenance costs.
Achieving these goals are worthwhile and important, of course. But they are not enough. They do not address what our country needs to succeed: inclusivity. Our failing roads, transportation systems and public works disproportionately hurt people who have a lower income, live in rural areas or are vulnerable. Bad roads, poor sanitation, and low internet connectivity are dividing people from each other, from opportunity and from the critical resources they need to thrive. When government and business leaders talk about improving our nation’s infrastructure, they must recognize this.
I believe that our infrastructure and our societal problems are closely linked, and that we can solve them together. Put simply, solving our nation’s infrastructure issues while prioritizing inclusive planning will make our future more effective and efficient. Failing to close the infrastructure gap could cost $3.9 trillion in lost GDP, $7 trillion in lost business sales and 2.5 million lost American jobs in less than a decade, estimates The American Society of Civil Engineers.
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The New Deal in the 1930s was the last time we saw any kind of major transformative infrastructure push. It was a series of federal programmes designed to create jobs during the Great Depression. The New Deal modernized our highway and rail systems, built bridges still in use today and reimagined public works. It transformed the fabric of the American economy, connecting the federal government to our physical spaces, all in the name of getting Americans back to work. The New Deal changed American lives.
Today, we could do the same. The US is in dire need of infrastructure improvements. One-third of our roads are in poor condition, 56,000 bridges are structurally deficient, 63 million Americans have been exposed to unsafe drinking water and nearly the same number don’t have Internet access. At the same time, we need to address the growing opportunity gap in our communities. It hurts our talent pipeline, burdens our government and creates generations of poverty.
The most effective way to solve these problems is simultaneously. Inclusive infrastructure and innovative leadership can do so. We must create a New, New Deal for the 21st century. It should be grounded in a spirit of inclusive infrastructure and focused on:
- Connectivity between urban and rural areas, and all areas in between
- Universal access to the internet
- Sustainable job creation
- Public and safe green space
- Safe and accessible public utilities, such as drinking water
- Seamless and inexpensive public transportation
- Available and affordable nutritious food
What would it achieve for our communities, our country and business?
- Stable and adequate incomes for families
- Healthy communities
- Decreased burdens on public amenities
- A greener way of living and commuting, because we know that wasting resources hurts the disadvantaged the most
- Communities that have not been displaced by public projects
- Engaged people who have access to quality jobs, education and information powered by digital connectivity
- A bigger and more prepared talent pipeline from which businesses can recruit
- A digitally-enabled, connected workforce
- A competitive edge for the US as the world continues to grow and change
Far too many Americans feel that they have been left behind, our latest presidential election revealed. This feeling directly contributes to a fractious society. It is mirrored in the contentious, populist sentiment on the rise around the world. If we are to bring people back together and continue our success into the next generation, no American - especially those living in under-served and vulnerable communities - should be left behind during the next wave of infrastructure improvements.
Building new infrastructure is only useful if it serves everyone, not just the wealthy and those lucky enough to live and find work in our nation’s thriving centres. In order for America to succeed, the cities and towns we build must reflect the diversity of the people who live in them.
Infrastructure projects are not a silver bullet for every societal problem. But we must recognize the dual opportunity that rebuilding America's infrastructure offers for promoting shared prosperity. When we ensure that everyone can access their full potential, we all win.