A 21st-Century Economy Requires a 21st-Century Transportation Infrastructure

Building America's Future

August 16, 2011

The information provided here is for informational and educational purposes and does not necessarily reflect the opinion and/or policy position of the Georgia Municipal Association.

U.S. infrastructure has fallen from first place in the World Economic Forum's 2005 economic competitiveness ranking to number 15 today.

A new report from the bipartisan group Building America's Future (BAF) advocates the need for the U.S. to move beyond it's 20th-century infrastructure in order to create a 21st-century economic foundation.

The report explains how international economic competitors are sprinting ahead of the U.S. and outlines the case for creating a blueprint to transition to a high-tech transportation network for the 21st century. The report also contains many sobering statistics detailing how the U.S. is falling behind including:
  • U.S. infrastructure has fallen from first place in the World Economic Forum’s 2005 economic competitiveness ranking to number 15 today.
  • Freight bottlenecks and other forms of congestion cost about $200 billion, or 1.6% of U.S. GDP, a year.
  • A study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently found that our transportation system is underperforming to a degree that we effectively leaving $1 trillion of GDP on the table.
  • In 2009, American wasted 4.8 billion hours and 3.9 billion gallons of fuel sitting in traffic, at a cost of $115 billion.
  • Canada spends 4% of its GDP on transportation investment and maintenance, and China spends 9%.  The U.S. spends only 1.7%.
  • China now boasts six of the world’s top ten ports – and none of the top ten are located in the U.S. The Shanghai port now moves more container traffic a year than the top seven U.S. ports combined.
  • The World Economic Forum now ranks the U.S. 22nd in the world in terms of the quality of our port infrastructure.
  • The U.S. has the world’s worst air traffic congestion—a quarter of flights in the U.S. arrive more than 15 minutes late, and the national average for all delayed flights in the U.S. (about 56 minutes) is twice that of Europe’s average.
  • U.S.air traffic control is managed by the same ground-based radar system developed in the 1950s.
  • There are more than 15,000 miles of true high‐speed rail in operation around the world–essentially none of which is in the U.S–while U.S. passenger trains run at slower speeds than they did a half a century ago. 
  • The U.S. is one of the only leading nations without a national plan for public‐private partnerships for infrastructure projects or a National Infrastructure Bank to finance large‐scale projects and
    leverage private capital.
The final section of the report is a set of recommendations for moving the economy forward through strategic investments in infrastructure including:
  • Develop a long‐term national infrastructure strategy that makes choices based on economics, not politics.
  • Pass a robust transportation bill that focuses investment on projects that will increase economic return and mobility while reducing congestion and pollution. Such a bill will put Americans back to work and make the U.S. more competitive in the global economy. 
  • Be both innovative and realistic about how to pay (including the establishment of a National Infrastructure Bank) and looking at all long‐term revenue generating options including congestion pricing, carbon auctions, fees based on miles traveled, and –once the economy recovers –an updated gas-tax.
  • Promote accountability and innovation by setting clear criteria for all funding; encouraging innovation by states and the country’s largest cities through competitive grants; and carefully auditing the results to ensure projects are completed on time, on budget, and yielding promised results.

More information can be found in BAF's report, Falling Apart and Falling Behind (PDF, 5.79MB).

Building America's Future Educational Fund (BAF Ed Fund) is a bipartisan coalition of elected officials dedicated to bringing about a new era of U.S. investment in infrastructure that enhances our nation's prosperity and quality of life.