10/15/2014 05:16 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2014

The Tangible Case for Infrastructure Investment

Levi Bianco via Getty Images

A who's who of international economy watchers are imploring Washington to do what it hasn't done in nearly a decade: Pass a long-term, large-scale infrastructure plan.

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, for instance, argues that public spending on infrastructure could boost the gross domestic product by a full percentage point. The International Monetary Fund, meanwhile, says infrastructure is "one of the few remaining policy levers available to support growth."

And while I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment, I think it could be presented in a less abstract fashion.

You don't need to tell the average American that the country's public infrastructure is in a sorry state. They cross plenty of dubious bridges on their way to work (156,000 of them are structurally deficient), sit in too many traffic jams, and deal with too many water main breaks. And they're well aware of the $86 billion backlog in road repairs -- a recent study found that shabby road conditions costs an annual $324 per driver.

So let's make the argument for investment more tangible.

The problem? Congress hasn't passed a long-term infrastructure plan since 2005. Since then, funding for infrastructure projects have been approved and applied as a series of short-term patches. The country's current Band-Aid, applied back in August, will only keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent until May 2015.

The repercussions? According to a new report from Duke University's Center for Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness, this piecemeal approach costs Americans -- you, me, your neighbor, the people in your fantasy football league -- in a lot of different ways.

  • It costs us time. Collectively, we annually spend roughly 600,000 years stuck in traffic jams.
  • It costs us money. America currently loses $200 billion a year to inefficient rail transportation alone.
  • It costs potential jobs. Underinvestment in infrastructure has left over U.S. 900,000 jobs on the table, including many in the higher-paying productive sector of the economy.
  • It costs us business. The United States boasts the world's largest stock of transportation infrastructure as measured by combined bridges, airports, seaports, and miles of road, rail, pipeline, and inland waterways. But infrastructure doesn't mean much to the businesses that use it when so much of it is in disrepair. America -- home to the world's wealthiest economy -- has slid down to 16th place in a global assessment of such infrastructure.

The cure? The long-term, large-scale infrastructure plan that everyone wants and that Capitol Hill can't seem to vote for.

A serious infrastructure investment -- one with real meat on its bones, six years long worth at least $100 billion annually -- would support about 2.18 million new American jobs. And every dollar invested would return $3.54 in economic impact.

Great data points, right? Then join me in driving the point home. If you agree, like I do, that an infrastructure plan is long overdue in America, let your congressional representatives know where you want their attention trained when they return to Washington in November.

A decade of inaction is long enough. Infrastructure investment creates American jobs, and we need it now. It's just that simple.