The High Cost of Underinvestment


It’s the last (unofficial) weekend of summer, and the Labor Day holiday traffic tends to shine a spotlight on the need to improve our transportation infrastructure. With Congress back in session on Tuesday, hopefully they take note of the ways our aging transportation network is holding us back.

A predicted 35.5 million U.S. residents will travel at least 50 miles away from home over this weekend, according to AAA. While that’s the highest number seen since 2008, U.S. Travel found in a new survey that the hassles caused by failing surface and air travel infrastructure will keep 4.1 million potential travelers at home—costing the economy $1.4 billion in spending. This research again proves that our economy suffers when we do not make the investment in our infrastructure.

In Washington State, Representative Rick Larson, joined commuters on public transit to see for himself how exasperating the morning commute is. As a senior member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Larson is a leader in getting his fellow U.S. representatives to pass a long-term transportation bill this fall.

Roads, bridges, and transit are not the only sectors of infrastructure that need investment; water infrastructure, including underground pipes and locks, are also in need of modernization. In Michigan, the recent shutdowns of one of the Soo Locks—a crucial passageway for nine million metric tons of a freight a month—exemplify how important projects are currently sidelined due to a dearth in funding. During the 20-day period that the 73-year-old MacArthur Lock was closed for repairs by the Army Corps of Engineers, more than 100 vessels — carrying iron ore, coal, grain and more — were delayed at least 166 hours.

Out of Vermont is another story demonstrating the side effects of underinvestment in underground water infrastructure. The pipes that are failing range between 40 and130 years old, ass all are reaching the end of their useful design lives simultaneously. Jeff Wennberg of Rutland Public Works, responded to these infrastructure needs by pointing to the funding issue, “There’s no problem here with any of this infrastructure that can’t be fixed. It can all be fixed. The question is, who is going to pay for it and how soon?”

While infrastructure needs may vary across the nation, the source of funding remains the biggest obstacle. In a recent poll conducted by the Mineta Transportation Institute, 61 percent of U.S. residents would support a 10-cent increase in the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax if it is dedicated to transportation projects. As Congress returns to Washington tasked with finding three more years of funding for the DRIVE Act, and passing the bill through the House, hopefully this poll research will encourage them to find the political will to raise the gas tax as a way to #FixTheTrustFund.

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