Delivering 21st Century Infrastructure

In order to remain the world economic leader, we must modernize our aging infrastructure

By Dominika Kowalska

We are only a few months into the new year, but we can all agree that the month of March felt rather like a year than a month due to the coronavirus pandemic. 2020 is an election year and a trial year for infrastructure, especially for soft infrastructure, including health institutions and emergency services.

I would like to look at the coronavirus outburst in a positive light, as an opportunity to verify how well our infrastructure and institutions react in a time of emergency, and to learn and prepare for the future. It is a trial to American infrastructure, mobilizing the institutions to check, modernize, improve, and if it is done right, it will leave us better prepared for the future.

Transportation and Coronavirus

To help alleviate the consequences of the pandemic, in late March 2020 the House Democrats proposed the “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act” that will help millions of workers in aviation, railroad, and public sectors, as well as families at risk of losing water and wastewater services due to coronavirus crisis.

Transportation-related provisions in the act proposal include $25 billion to keep public transit operational for healthcare and other essential employees, $1 billion to sustain Amtrak rail network, relief for railroad workers, low-income households in the form of drinking water and wastewater rate assistance.

It also includes $10 billion for airports to use on infrastructure projects, cleaning, sanitization, janitorial services, and requires airport to retain 90 percent of their workforce and provide relief to airport concessionaires. Moreover, nearly one million of aviation workers and contractors will receive $37 billion in grants to ensure that 750,000 employees of mainline, regional, and cargo airlines receive their regular paycheck.

Peter DeFazio, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who offered input for the package, said: “As we adjust to a new reality, for now, of staying close to home, ridership on our public transit systems, commuter rail, Amtrak and airlines has plummeted — nearly zeroing out revenue streams,” DeFazio explained. “But here’s the thing: Transportation will always be critical to our nation — especially right now.”

Major change in infrastructure? Eco-friendly materials.

At the end of January 2020, House Democrats released a $760 billion plan to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure while helping address climate change. “America’s surface transportation system is in urgent need of sustained investment and a new vision to meet 21st century challenges” we can read in the Moving Forward Framework.

This infrastructure plan would set a path toward zero carbon pollution from the transportation sector, creating jobs, protecting our natural resources, promoting environmental justice, and increasing resiliency to climate change. It would invest $329 billion in transportation systems, implementing the use of modern technology, road safety investments, and increase availability of charging stations and other alternative fueling options for zeroemission vehicles.

$105 billion would be allocated for transit agencies and maintenance, increasing, among others, investment in zeroemission buses to reduce carbon pollution. $55 billion is destined for railways, to expand the nation’s passenger rail network, invest in Amtrak stations, and much needed rail car modernization.

$21.4 billion would be spent to ensure clean drinking water, since still, not every region in USA has access to it. Providing clean drinking water would reduce the plastic waste and let Americans save money. The plan also includes $34,3 billion in clean energy investment.

“There is no better way to strengthen our economy for the future than to modernize our badly aging infrastructure. This bold framework not only helps us rebuild our nation, it also combats climate change by reducing carbon emissions and moving us towards a clean energy future,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone.

“When we invest in infrastructure, it results in a significant economic multiplier – with each dollar spent, our nation becomes more competitive and prosperous,” said Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal.

Chairman DeFazio said that the Republicans are likely to get behind the plan. “They shouldn’t have any objection to new, more climate friendly materials that are actually going to save the taxpayers money,” “I think there’s a lot of things we could agree on.”

It is certain that modernization is overdue. The World Economic Forum ranked America’s overall infrastructure 9th in the world, and the quality of its roads 11th. If America wants to continue being the world leader, be ready to face economic growth as well as emergencies, and continue serving American people, serious investment in modernization is necessary. To do that, we need to move American infrastructure from grade D+, “Poor, at risk”, to grade A, “Exceptional fit for the future.”

Dominika Kowalska is an Assistant Editor for American Infrastructure Magazine. She may be reached at dominika@builder.media

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