Second Rate?

A new report indicates that the United States is falling seriously behind the rest of the world in quality, leadership and vision on infrastructure

Bad grades on an infrastructure report card are disturbing. Having the United States called “second rate” in terms of infrastructure is, or should be, downright alarming.

That very phrase appears in connection with a new infrastructure survey released in October by CG/LA Infrastructure, based in Washington, D.C. The Country Infrastructure Capacity (CIC) Survey scores countries’ capacity to develop infrastructure projects, ranking them from 1 to 10 on eight areas that are basic to project development.

“Overall,” said a CG/LA press release on the results, “the scores suggest that the U.S. is falling into second-rate status in the infrastructure arena, becoming a country that does not attract top-flight expertise or resources to its infrastructure business. In particular, responses on questions about leadership and vision yielded lower scores than any previously surveyed country.”


On par with Peru?

Norman Anderson, president and CEO of CG/LA, observed, “We have conducted this survey around the world, and the overall results for the U.S. are some of the lowest scores that we have seen. U.S. scores are on par with Peru, in terms of the country’s ability to develop infrastructure projects, and well below those of Brazil, India, China and other countries with which we compete for scarce infrastructure dollars and expertise.”

The U.S. total score (sum of the scores for all eight areas surveyed) was 43.8, versus, for example, 50.8 for Brazil and 51.3 for India. Here are the U.S. scores for the individual categories (scores below 7 indicate failing grades):

• Overall vision, 3.5

• Public sector technical capacity, 4.95

• Public sector strategic capacity, 4.45

• Great projects, 6.64

• Leadership, 4.18

• Long-term project performance, 6.43

• Engineering, procurement and construction firms, 7.62

• Local equity capacity, 6.05


Other views

Meanwhile, the debate in the halls of Congress and in statehouses around the country seems to be about all the things we can “no longer afford.” Have some of our leaders decided that infrastructure investment is one of those things?

CG/LA is not the first entity to sound an alarm. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ most recent Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave the nation an overall grade of D and noted the need for a five-year investment of $2.2 trillion from all levels of government and the private sector. Wastewater infrastructure received a D grade, and drinking water a D-minus.

“Decades of underfunding and inattention have jeopardized the ability of our nation’s infrastructure to support our economy and facilitate our way of life,” the ASCE observed. “Since ASCE’s last assessment in 2005, there has been little change in the condition of the nation’s roads, bridges, drinking water systems and other public works, and the cost of improvement has increased by more than half a trillion dollars.”


Seeing the benefits

Another recent report emphasized the potential benefits of investing in infrastructure. Water Works: Rebuilding Infrastructure, Creating Jobs, Greening the Environment, was released in October by Green For All, in partnership with American Rivers, the Economic Policy Institute, and the Pacific Institute. It estimated that upgrading the nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure could create nearly 1.9 million jobs and add $265 billion to the economy.

The report looks at an investment of $188.4 billion in water infrastructure — the amount the U.S. EPA says it would take to manage stormwater and preserve water quality. It says that investment would create nearly 1.3 million direct and indirect jobs in related sectors and lead to 568,000 more jobs from increased spending.

“We find that our decaying water infrastructure pollutes our waters, sickens our children, and wastes natural resources,” the report’s authors state. “Every year, sewer overflows contaminate U.S. waters with 860 billion gallons of untreated sewage, an amount that could fill 1.3 million Olympic-size swimming pools or cover the entire state of Pennsylvania with one inch of sewage.

“Total public investment in water infrastructure as a share of the economy is estimated to have fallen by over one-third since peak levels of investment in 1975. As new challenges emerge and systems deteriorate further, we are seeing a growing gap between our clean water needs and annual investment.”

In comparison against other approaches to job creation that have been proposed, the report states, “Infrastructure investments create over 16 percent more jobs dollar-for-dollar than a payroll tax holiday, nearly 40 percent more jobs than an across-the-board tax cut, and over five times as many jobs as temporary business tax cuts.”


The time is when?

So, where exactly is the downside to infrastructure investment? Does our nation really want to become “second rate”? What is it going to take to start this ball rolling? Exactly when is the right time? Signs seem to indicate the time is now.


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