THE BLOG

How $60 Billion in Federal Infrastructure Spending Can Put One Million People Back to Work

11/15/2012 02:32 pm ET | Updated Jan 15, 2013

We've survived the election of 2012. Now what? I propose that it would be a great step in the right direction for our reelected president and all those elected officials returning to or starting out in office to make a serious and tangible investment in our nation by investing in the nation's infrastructure.

Our infrastructure has been an issue that our politicians have shied away from tackling for far too long. And that's most likely been the case for two reasons: 1) It is an overwhelming task. 2) No one knows how to fund the needed repairs.

For the bold leader brave enough to take on the task of repairing the nation's infrastructure, I have some good news. Yes, it's overwhelming, but you can make it less so by focusing on a part of our infrastructure in truly desperate need of help: the nation's bridge system. And secondly, the 2,000 most dangerous bridges can be repaired without impacting the national deficit.

What do we need to get started? Simply the will to make it happen. That's because for the leader brave enough to take on solving this problem, be it the president, a member of Congress, or someone else, it is a win-win situation.

Not only would that leader show the bold, forward-thinking leadership that this country needs, you'll be showing a commitment to making a long-lasting, tangible investment in our nation, the very roads and bridges that keep our economy running and play a major role in our national security. You'll also be creating a significant number of jobs when many Americans are desperate to find work, and you'll do all of this without costing the nation a penny.

How did the nation's infrastructure get so bad?

Today, the average bridge in the United States is 43 years old. Most bridges in the country were designed for a fifty-year life span. The traveling public and the businesses using them every day are traversing tens of thousands of bridges that do not meet acceptable standards of safety and that, without action, will not receive the repairs they need any time soon.

There are 7,980 bridges in the U.S. that are both structurally deficient, meaning they have received a "poor" rating, and fracture-critical, meaning they lack support to hold up the bridge if a single component fails. To give you an idea of the significance of these designations, the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis was both structurally deficient and fracture-critical before it collapsed.

The main reason our nation's infrastructure has gone untended for so long is a lack of funding. But the reality is, that is just a convenient excuse. There is money for infrastructure investment. The truth is, states aren't required to spend the federal transportation funds they're given on bridge repairs. They can, and do, allocate half of the funding they receive to other projects. Long story short, the money is there; it simply needs to be allocated properly. And here's how to do it.

Infrastructure spending can be deficit-neutral.

It is absolutely possible to fix the top 2,000 most dangerous bridges without adding a single penny to the deficit.

Here's how: Repairing these 2,000 bridges would cost an estimated $30-60 billion and would employ 1.2 million construction workers, providing a great relief to an industry with an unemployment rate of 17 percent compared to the national average of 7.9 percent.

One-third of this expenditure (i.e., $13 billion) will immediately be returned to the federal and state governments via income taxes. Much of the rest would be pumped back into the economy through the newly employed construction workers' increased consumer spending. Also, keep in mind the boost that would come to the steel and concrete industries that would be supplying the materials to repair these bridges. At the end of the day, the net cost to the deficit, including recurring sales taxes on the clothing, cars, and other goods purchased by workers, will be zero.

Right now, our nation's leaders are not leading. They are not looking down the road to a brighter future. Instead, they are consistently "kicking the can" down a brutally congested road, pockmarked with potholes and connected by bridges that are unsafe for the traveling public. Their silence on this important issue is deafening.

Speaking in 1962, President Kennedy, with the full support of both political parties, committed our nation to putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. It was a move that epitomized the courage and long-term vision that this nation's leaders and everyday citizens knew as the American way.

In that speech, President Kennedy said, "This country... was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward...."

Tackling the nation's infrastructure problems probably seems overwhelming, but Kennedy probably felt overwhelmed by sending a man to outerspace. He did it anyway. We need a bold leader to take action on repairing infrastructure despite its overwhelming scope. We need a leader brave enough to take the all-important first step in moving this country's infrastructure forward.