Infrastructure Costs Americans More to Neglect than Maintain

The American Society of Civil Engineers has released a report, Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Surface Transportation Infrastructure, finding that deficiencies in transportation infrastructure cost Americans billions of dollars per year and hundreds of thousands of jobs. In 2010 alone, the poor condition of our highways, railroads, bridges, and transit systems cost $130 billion. This sum represents the higher operating costs of running vehicles on poor facilities, the expense of damages to vehicles inflicted by crumbling infrastructure, the value of the time wasted by travelers, and the added cost of repairing or replacing facilities after they have deteriorated or collapsed, rather than maintaining them in good condition. As our investment in infrastructure fails to keep pace with our maintenance needs, the mounting cost of our transportation deficiencies is projected to rise dramatically, to nearly $3 trillion by 2040. For comparison, to bring our infrastructure back up to minimum standards and avoid this harm to the economy, the United States would need to invest only $846 billion over 9 years, or $94 billion per year.

ASCE Table 1

The ASCE report found that by 2040, the American economy will have lost hundreds of thousands of jobs if it fails to maintain its infrastructure. As the costs of transportation increase, businesses have less money available to invest in innovation or hiring, and families have less money available for consumer spending. This hurts the high-value professional, business, and medical sectors as well as sectors such as entertainment and consumer manufacturing. All told, these important sectors will lose over 1.3 million jobs.

This is balanced against some additional jobs that will be created in lower-paid fields such as delivery and automotive repair, to attempt to cope with the strains of an inadequate transportation system. Businesses will also be less productive with costlier and less reliable transportation, requiring firms to hire more employees to do the same amount of work, at lower wages. Ultimately, 900,000 jobs will be created in lower-paying sectors, resulting in a net loss of over 400,000 jobs and $252 billion in income by 2040. In addition to having smaller incomes, Americans will also have to pay more for basic transportation. Between 2011 and 2020, the cost of neglecting infrastructure to the average American family will total $10,600.

Finally, as our international competitors invest in their own transportation infrastructure, the United States will lose ground in the global marketplace if we do not keep pace. Less reliable infrastructure hurts American exporters by directly increasing the cost of getting goods or business travelers across borders or to ports, and by increasing the cost of industrial inputs. The ASCE estimates that by the year 2020, inadequate transportation infrastructure will cost the United States $28 billion in foregone exports, increasing to $72 billion by 2040.

Decrepit national infrastructure raises the cost of doing business, kills jobs, drives down wages, harms our quality of life, and limits mobility for American families. All told, allowing our infrastructure to crumble will ultimately cost the United States $3 trillion. The price of doing nothing is simply too high to pay.