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Infrastructure Improvements – All Talk or a Reality?


As part of his campaign pledge, President Trump promised US infrastructure improvements. Indeed, the question of infrastructure improvement has been an issue for quite a while. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, infrastructure will need $3.6 trillion in investments by 2020. Another study, from the US Department of Transportation, estimates just to maintain current highways and bridges through 2030 will cost at least $65.3 billion per year.

A Pricey Promise

Infrastructure investments are not only expensive but have become a lightning rod in politics, as well. Such questions as how to fund infrastructure projects, prioritization of projects and who will manage the projects have all been greatly debated on Capitol Hill as well as in a variety of publications. The one thing that everyone can agree on is that something needs to be done.

A report from Barclays and consulting firm CG/LA Infrastructure compiled a list of the top 10 most expensive infrastructure projects in the United States. Total cost for these ten projects combined is an estimated $132.6 billion. Among these projects are:

  • The Port of New Orleans - Deepen the channel by 5 feet, to 50 feet, to allow larger ships. Estimated cost - $1.2 billion.

  • Gordie Howe International Bridge – A major NAFTA corridor, intended to improve traffic flow between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. Estimated cost - $2.1 billion.

  • Puget Sound Gateway Project - To relieve traffic and congestion between Seattle and Tacoma. Estimated cost - $2.8 billion.

  • Jasper Ocean Terminal - The new terminal will provide large container ships with access to the Port of Savannah in Georgia. Estimated cost - $4.5 billion.

In late January the President’s administration published a 50-project list. The 50 projects come with a price tag of $140 billion and are expected to employ 24,000 US workers for 10 years. Rail upgrades account for nearly half of total costs and would account for 52% of jobs created. Meanwhile, U.S. governors sent the Trump administration a list of 428 infrastructure related, "shovel-ready" projects they regard as high-priority.

Just Do Something Already

In terms of funding, private financing, public funding or some kind of regulatory relief, they all are on the table for consideration. But a big problem that has not been addressed is who will manage the projects. There is a shortage of US industrial engineers since baby boomers are leaving the workforce and universities produce fewer heavy engineering graduates. In addition, analysts have noted that the technology and expertise needed for the infrastructure projects no longer resides in the US. Consequently, the US government will need to turn to companies in such countries as China, Japan and Germany.

According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), between 2016 and 2027, overall freight tonnage will grow a total of 35%. During the same time period, freight by trucks will grow 27%. In 2015, trucks made up 81.5% of the nation’s freight bill.

The need is great but the steps towards making infrastructure improvements a reality is another matter. Will it finally happen this time? Stay tuned.

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