Public infrastructure: neglect it now, pay more later


In a keynote address at the American Public Works Association-Minnesota Chapter fall conference, U of M civil engineering professor Roberto Ballerini asserted that the nation’s security depends on its infrastructure.

At one time, the United States had an infrastructure second to none, Ballerini continued. Today, that once-great infrastructure is deteriorating. “Hundreds of thousands of bridges are functionally obsolete… this is mediocrity, and the biggest problem with mediocrity is that people get used to it and think it’s okay.” How have we let this happen, he asked, when Americans are the richest they have ever been?

From 1982 to 2013, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the United States expanded from $3 trillion to $14 trillion, explained Ballerini. “In 1982, we spent about 4 percent of our GDP on infrastructure investment, but in 2013 our infrastructure investment was less than 2 percent of the GDP. China, one of our biggest [economic] competitors…spends around 10 percent of its GDP on infrastructure.” For each year we wait to invest in our infrastructure, he added, the cost to improve goes up.

The solution comes down to prioritizing and long-term planning, Ballerini said. “Building infrastructure provides a positive return on investment
for our nation. It creates jobs and technical expertise.”

Minnesota Representative Alice Hausman is no stranger to the roadblocks that have recently hindered infrastructure funding in Minnesota. Last year, she penned an unsuccessful $800 million bonding bill that contained several infrastructure projects around the state.

Hausman said she faced opposition from colleagues that thought too many of the projects were focused on the metro area. Furthermore, she explained, many metro-area residents believe the bulk of their taxes are spent funding projects in Greater Minnesota.

In the past, infrastructure was not a partisan issue because everyone understood the need, Hausman continued, but now infrastructure funding has become very politicized.

“There were visionaries and courageous leaders in the past,” Hausman concluded. “Somehow we have to find that political will once again to get across all of the artificial boundaries and come together to invest responsibly in infrastructure.”

Read the full article in the Winter 2014 issue of the LTAP Exchange.

Posted in Infrastructure

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