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Solving the Problem of Our Ailing Infrastructure

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It’s no secret that our country’s highways, bridges, and waterways are in a state of disrepair. Although our nation is becoming wealthier and more prosperous, we’re failing to update our infrastructure, and it’s starting to have a ripple effect on other aspects of our country.  We recently reviewed the current grades for United States infrastructure in “Only the Construction Industry Can Stop the Infrastructure Crisis.” In that article, we revealed that important components of our infrastructure were greatly lacking, which is illustrated by the following grades:

  • Aviation: D
  • Bridges: C+
  • Dams: D
  • Drinking Water: D
  • Energy: D+
  • Hazardous Waste: D+
  • Levees: D
  • Public Parks: D+
  • Ports: C+
  • Inland Waterways: D
  • Rail: B
  • Roads: D
  • Schools: D+
  • Solid Waste: C+
  • Transit: D-
  • Wastewater: D+

Of the sixteen different types of infrastructure we discussed, only rail received what most would consider a passable grade, and the other fifteen types averaged a grade of D. That’s not very impressive for a country that has always held on tightly to its stature as a world leader, but with the help of the construction industry, we can start to turn things around for the better. In this editorial, we’ll take a close look at our country’s infrastructure and propose solutions to help get it on the right track. Contractors who need assistance procuring public works contracts through the federal bidding process should consult an Orlando construction lawyer from Cotney Construction Law. Our experienced Orlando construction lawyers can help you put together an attractive and valid bid package or protest a bid that you feel was unfairly awarded to another business.

Infrastructure: A Bipartisan Issue

When it comes to our infrastructure, both political parties generally agree that improvements need to be made to advance the wealth of our nation. While one politician might value energy over transit and another might believe the future of our country is reliant on ports, they all agree that there’s work to be done. There are many organizations working together to fix this issue, such as the Problem Solvers Caucus Infrastructure Working Group, which was established to “analyze policies and find points of bipartisan consensus to address the enormous need for new infrastructure and the current backlog of deferred maintenance facing our country.” In this editorial, we will be discussing many of their findings regarding general reforms, surface transportation, ports and inland waterways, water and wastewater infrastructure, energy, and aviation.

General Reforms

The United States infrastructure is truly a behemoth. With approximately 9 million miles of roadway, 160,000 public water systems, and 5.5 million miles of electrical distribution lines — not to mention nearly 90 million broadband subscribers — there’s no shortage of infrastructure in need of repairs and updates. Unfortunately, year after year of diminished investments and lackluster maintenance has caused our infrastructure to reach its tipping point, and experts are now estimating that the funding gap for infrastructure could reach $2 trillion by 2025. That’s nearly twice as much as our debt to China. The infrastructure challenge is truly endemic, but we can start to get on the right track by embracing some general reforms, many of which could benefit the construction industry. Some proposed solutions include:

  • Long-term, sustainable infrastructure funding from Congress.
  • Push for more tax-advantaged infrastructure financing through the use of the federal tax-exempt status for both private activity bonds and municipal bonds.
  • Incentivize Public Private Partnerships (P3s) to help close the infrastructure gap.
  • As recommended by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), bolster transparency in the competitive federal grant program to increase the efficacy of the resources being utilized.
  • Streamline the environmental review process for expedited project delivery, especially for projects funded by the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT).
  • Make tools, education, and technical assistance related to project delivery and financing models more readily available for state and local agencies.

Surface Transportation

Today’s roadways are unsuitable for the vast number of vehicles navigating them each and every day. The construction industry is prepared to help right the wrongs of yesteryear, but it’s increasingly difficult under the current model for federal surface transportation spending, which is mainly handled through the Highway Trust fund. Unfortunately, the federal user fee for gasoline — 18.4 centers per gallon — has remained static since 1993. In addition, it fails to account for fuel economy standards, construction costs, or inflation, which greatly diminishes the power of the user fee. Although Congress supplements the trust fund via U.S. Treasury transfers, it’s only serving to push the burden of highway infrastructure to future generations. It’s imperative that this system is overhauled to function within the context of the modern economy if we want to spur funding and give more construction professionals jobs. After all, lucrative highway construction projects are some of the most highly coveted public contracts, and capable contractors are always prepared to submit a bid for such initiatives. If you’re interested in partaking in public works projects, consult an Orlando construction attorney.

Ports and Inland Waterways

Construction in and along ports and inland waterways is required to maintain economic relationships with Canada and Mexico. Funding shortages for dredging have crippled our waterways and increased the necessity for overland imports. The harbor maintenance fee of .125 percent, which is charged on all imported commercial cargo, is intended to fund the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, but many of these funds are reappropriated. In order to rebuild this infrastructure, these funds must be diverted back to where they were originally intended to go.

Water and Wastewater Infrastructure

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the funding gap for water infrastructure stretches into the hundreds of billions, which means the current federal programs are not making the cut where our water is concerned. As we’ve noted, the construction industry is able-bodied and ready to work despite a severe labor shortage. Fortunately, the solution is clear: increase funding to bring skilled contractors into the fold and let them do their job. This would help eliminate many of our water-related problems like the lack of access to clean water and the threat of harmful algal blooms (HABs).

Energy

Energy is one of the fastest growing parts of our infrastructure, but it might not be growing fast enough. The advent of renewable energy has ushered in an age of environmentally friendly power, but equipping our country with the necessary infrastructure to channel this energy has proven to be a significant challenge. While the construction industry has been quick to match this innovation, the federal government has been unable to provide the level of support necessary to mitigate our reliance on non-renewable energy. Our approach to financing must mirror the innovation found in the technologies we wish to fund; otherwise, we’ll never be able to become truly net-zero — a building philosophy the construction industry has embraced fully in certain parts of the country.

Aviation

Approximately 932 million travelers funnel through our country’s airport terminals every year, but our infrastructure is being strained in the process. The U.S. Travel Association believes that around 80 percent of the top thirty airports in the United States will succumb to “Thanksgiving-like congestion and traffic volume” on a weekly basis if efforts aren’t made to continue building out our aviation infrastructure. Many argue that the government should empower the Federal Aviation Administration to get the job done, but it will ultimately be the efforts of construction professionals that push our aviation infrastructure forward.

If you would like to speak with one of our Orlando construction attorneys, please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.