The Cement Mixer is Churning

Sam Whitehorn

Inspect any aspect of our aging infrastructure: A major problem exists.


With the start of the new year, Washington has turned its attention back to what might happen, what is possible, and whether or not the Hatfields and McCoys can bury the hatchet. In no sector is this currently more keenly monitored than in infrastructure.

Take your average pot hole. Take your normal tire. Marry the two, and you have created a job for the two mechanic and tow truck guys to service your car. Absent an infrastructure package, the opportunity is missed to create hundreds of thousands of jobs to meet future demand and growth.

Consider the highway – remember when speed limits were actually limiting? Today, delays and congestion cost US taxpayers upwards of $160 billion a year – a year.

Think back to last year’s American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Infrastructure Report Card. The United States received a D+. How can a thriving economy operate on D+ infrastructure?

Infrastructure has been on a collision course, politically, for some time. The term has many meanings and covers every aspect of our system, from bridges to fiber optics, whether we can see it or not.

President Trump will roll out his initiative later this month. We anticipate a call for a $1 trillion investment. We expect that the proposal will not provide any new monies, but instead will repackage existing federal funds, expand the usage of those funds, and create new sources of mechanisms for private financing of infrastructure. That means interested parties will need to understand the potential changes; how the changes may impact users and communities; and what impact they will have on commerce. Shaping those policies to meet needs is going to be critical. We also know that today, many states and communities are moving forward with their own concepts. For example, many states have raised the gas tax to pay for surface infrastructure. Those efforts will continue.

The Democrats put out their proposal last year, also calling for $1 trillion, but it relies more on the traditional model of federal funding, not on public-private partnerships.

Could there be synergy? The answer is yes, if the political will to address infrastructure is real. However, don’t take out the champagne just yet. For infrastructure to truly be a successful effort, this is what needs to happen:

  • The Hatfields and McCoys need to put aside their differences. Helping to focus on common interests will be critical, and it’s what Signal has done for a long time with various infrastructure and transportation groups. True bipartisan engagement is critical and needs to begin now.
  • Constituents must weigh in hard. There are many issues, but just as many ideas – share them! Moving and shaping ideas takes time and effort. Crafting a solution involves not only developing the concepts, but engaging with the administration, identifying the key movers on the Hill, and, yes, lobbying those concepts and ideas. Without that effort, you simply have great ideas.
  • State and local officials need to focus their message and needs, and then push their concepts and ideas with the administration and representatives at the federal level. Without that effort, again, you simply have great ideas.
  • Once those concepts and ideas are propounded, those great ideas from both sides need to be analyzed, dissected, and rebuilt with added concepts.
  • Key Washington players, from the chambers to users of the system, need to row in the same direction, challenging those that put up roadblocks. Putting those players together in strategic ways is also a critical component to knocking down the roadblocks.
  • Congress has already passed up one opportunity – via tax reform – to provide needed funding for infrastructure, and it cannot make the same mistake twice.
  • And both the Hatfields and McCoys need to be convinced to put away the outlier issues that will be show-stoppers for any infrastructure bill.

The infrastructure package will not go through Congress on a partisan platform. The process used to try the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and used to pass tax reform, will not fly for infrastructure. It requires a different type of engagement, working all three legs of the stool – administration, House and Senate – in a bipartisan way.

While we continue to wait in traffic, the cost of transporting goods continues to rise, and millions of new jobs are left un-created. That is not a winning course. The potential for a successful outcome is there – we need to push the system to get it done.


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