Government and societal change is key for new projects.
- Making projects happen requires a revolution in government oversight and management.
- Continuous political and generational debate around infrastructure contributes to a lack of development.
- A shared national infrastructure vision requires focus on the results of specific projects.
The current infrastructure debate in the Unites States serves as a stress test for our entire system of government. Not only does it highlight the fact that our infrastructure is old and broken, but we are constantly pounded with facts about how it is not purpose-built for a high-functioning economy.
The stress is only beginning. We have significant disagreement between Republicans and Democrats about rural versus urban infrastructure. Moreover, millennials and baby boomers continue to argue about public versus private investment at a time when budget deficits are nearing $1 trillion per year. These debates make it plain that we need another way to ‘see’ what we are talking about when we use the term infrastructure.
What if we could come up with a shared vision of what we wanted from increased infrastructure investment? We might do that by focusing on
opportunities that produce results such as better jobs or a faster commute, or on benefits such as health or clean water. Look around and think about what that would mean to you in your daily life. Thinking more broadly, what would it mean to your family members or your neighbors, or to your fellow citizens?
I would argue that the only way to create this shared vision is to focus on the results of specific projects.
Strategic Benefits & Opportunities
Think about the Gateway Tunnel between New York and New Jersey, the Houston/Dallas High Speed Rail, or the myriad smaller construction projects all around our country. As complex as these projects are, they bring us layers of benefits. Transit’s local benefits provide you with an easier commute. An airports national benefits provide us with increased job opportunities for relatives and friends around the country.
A third layer, iconic benefits, provide us with a special purpose through a distinct aesthetic. Projects like the Golden Gate Bridge speak to us of great things, as well as of who we are and what we can be. That is the power of infrastructure. Like education, it is one of the most important strategic investments that a serious country can make.
Local infrastructure investments don’t just create local benefits, they create long-term anchor jobs and industries throughout the heartland. For example, The Texas high speed rail project brings steel from Indiana and Colorado and will pour three times more concrete than the Hoover Dam. Following completion, it will create seven times its original capital cost in long-term operations and maintenance.
“We need to be transparent about our ambitions, and the fact that there is no single funding solution that can address all of the nation’s infrastructure needs.”
— Norman Anderson, CEO & Chairman of CG/LA Infrastructure
Four Strategic Reforms
Making projects happen — particularly privately-driven projects — requires a revolution in government oversight and management. An urgent priority is to focus on what we mean by ‘’infrastructure.”
Second, we need to be transparent about our ambitions, and the fact that there is no single funding solution that can address all of the nation’s infrastructure needs. The solution we ultimately develop needs to be unsparingly robust in order to guarantee an estimated $250 – $300 billion in infrastructure investment per year through 2030 in order to be most effective.
Five strong sources of revenue stand out. The first is an increase in the gas tax, and the public contribution to it. The second is the creation of an infrastructure bank in order to vastly expand the role of private investment and create incentives for modernizing our $19 trillion in existing public infrastructure assets. Notably, the US is the only advanced country without an infrastructure bank.
As a third measure, our public institutions need to be modernized due to dramatic innovations in finance and technology over the last 70 years. The current debate is warped by an institutional structure that has not changed since the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946. Moreover, Congress as a whole, continues to treat the nation’s infrastructure needs as simple public works projects.
Modernization of our public sector would also require that our executive branch of government create a National Infrastructure Council, on a par with the National Security Council, so that infrastructure priorities can be identified and expeditiously addressed.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, we need courageous leadership. If all leadership is about decision-making, then let’s get on with selecting strategic projects and ferociously push those through to the finish line. This type of leadership needs to show our entire country that great infrastructure which produces world-class results for users, is foundational to our future.
Norman Anderson is the CEO & Chairman of CG/LA Infrastructure, Inc., a firm serving as a platform for infrastructure project creation locally and globally. He also leads the Blueprint 2025 Initiative, a group of public and private entities focused on doubling the U.S. investment in infrastructure, and sustaining that investment for at least 10 years.
CG/LA Infrastructure creates long-term value in the world’s infrastructure markets by creating and managing a platform ecosystem for its members, and the members of the global infrastructure business.