- THE MAGAZINE
- INFO CENTER
Duncan made these remarks to a recent gathering at the National Press Club in Washington. He wasn't alarmist, collapse is not imminent, but his point is clear. The economic vitality of the U.S. depends on trade; trade relies on a smooth flowing network of ports, rivers, railroads, highways and air; that infrastructure is in serious trouble.
Here's a chilling sound bite: the Highway authorization bill finally passed by Congress in 2005 (several years late) "won't even manage the maintenance of the highway system, let alone expand it," observed Duncan.
And, it's not just somebody with a vested interest in highways who is sounding alarm bells. Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman and CEO of General Electric, also recently spoke in Washington. He addressed issues of national competitiveness, invoking a model that included a vital role for infrastructure. "We have got to decide do we want to export, do we want to innovate. Now, if society wants that, that's great. If not, somebody has to do something about it to create more competitiveness in the infrastructure."
How bad is it? Every few years the American Society of Civil Engineers gives America's infrastructure a report card, assessing 12 categories. Among those directly impacting commerce, the results are deadening: Aviation, D+, Navigable Waterways, D- ("of the 257 locks on the more than 12,000 miles of inland waterways operated by the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers, nearly 50% are functionally obsolete"), Rail, C- ("for the first time since World War II, limited rail capacity has created significant chokepoints and delays"), Roads, D.
"Our infrastructure is sliding toward failure and the prospect for any real improvement is grim," lamented ASCE President William P. Henry. "If we treated our own homes like we treat our infrastructure, we'd all live in shacks."
Perhaps the worst thing about denial is that it is immobilizing, it precludes timely response. There are those who fear the U.S. is in just such a 'denial trough' when it comes to the state of our deteriorating transportation infrastructure and the dire economic consequences that portends.
What to do?
Money's critical but money's not the whole answer. What is vital now, as time flees, is a comprehensive solution rather than piece meal responses. Just as we've entered a new era in supply chain management, so must we systematically target public investments in transportation infrastructure to where they'll most effectively support those supply chains (no more pork barrel bridges to nowhere in Alaska!).
Again, listen to Doug Duncan as he invokes shades of Jeff Immelt. "We need a national transportation strategy even before we need a national transportation policy." He's talking about an inclusive approach, one that applies cost/benefit metrics to an array of potential improvements in highways, rapid transit, inter-modal and inland waterways.
"The case hasn't yet been made as to what our transportation needs are," Duncan concluded. What a brutal indictment!