Decaying infrastructure costing families $3,100 a year, engineers warn

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A leading organization of engineering professionals issued another warning Tuesday about the condition of the nation's infrastructure, saying that current investment trends threaten millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in economic activity.

A report commissioned by the American Society of Civil Engineers said under-investment stretches across the spectrum of American infrastructure, including roads, bridges, power lines, water and sewer systems, ports and waterways.

"Deteriorating infrastructure has a cascading effect on our nation's economy," said Gregory DiLoreto, ASCE president. "If we don't invest now, all Americans will wind up paying more in the long run."

While the report, "Failure to Act: The Impact of Current Infrastructure Investment on America's Economic Growth," was filled with figures in the millions, billions and trillions, one smaller item might resonate more: The spending deficiency will cost the typical household $3,100 a year by 2020 if present trends continue, it said.

The report, by Economic Development Research Group Inc. of Boston, sought to quantify infrastructure spending needs and compare them with existing funding trends. It said needs will amount to $2.75 trillion by 2020 while projected spending will be $1.66 trillion, leaving a $1.1 trillion gap.

Without adequate investment, Americans will suffer continuing economic losses from traffic congestion, higher shipping costs and electricity and water service interruptions. "It's happening right now," Mr. DiLoreto said in a conference call with reporters.

"Doing nothing costs a lot," said Janet Kavinoky, executive director of transportation and infrastructure for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "The deterioration of the nation's infrastructure undermines the economy, jeopardizes our safety, threatens our quality of life and harms the environment."

In response to a question, Mr. DiLoreto said the report's intent was to identify the scope of the problem, not identify specific funding sources to remedy it.

President Barack Obama called for $50 billion in new infrastructure spending as part of the agreement to resolve the "fiscal cliff" deadline this month, but the final deal did not include it.

The engineering group said without additional investment of $157 billion a year between now and 2020, the following would be in jeopardy: $3.1 trillion in gross domestic product, more than the 2011 GDP of France; $1.1 trillion in U.S. trade, equivalent to Mexico's GDP; 3.5 million jobs, more than the jobs created in the U.S. over the previous 22 months; $2.4 trillion in consumer spending, comparable to Brazil's GDP; and $3,100 in annual income per household.

Rick Calhoun, president of Cargo Carriers, an affiliate of Cargill Inc., said the recent near-shutdown of the Mississippi River by drought conditions was "simply a preview of what will happen when we have a catastrophic failure of a lock or dam" that could impact shipping nationwide.

"Our investment in waterways infrastructure is declining every year," he said. "If you are not willing to feed the cow, you eventually can't milk it."

"We take electric transmission for granted but, if the lights aren't working, nobody is working," said Jim Hoecker, counsel and adviser to the industry group WIRES.

"The investment gap ASCE identifies will lead to unreliable service, higher electricity rates and an inability to reach new domestic energy resources. Under-investment in the grid also represents a missed opportunity to create hundreds of thousands of good jobs," he said.

The engineering group plans in March to issue a new "report card" on American infrastructure. The last one, released in 2009, gave the nation an overall grade of D.

nation - state - Transportation

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.


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