United States, California Have to Play Catch Up

Americans like to believe our country is best at everything all the time. When it comes to infrastructure, we are far from being number one. Luckily, President Biden’s $2 trillion “American Jobs Plan” offers some hope for investing in smart infrastructure and getting our state and country back in the top 10.

How we rank

Every four years, The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) publishes a report on the country’s infrastructure. The 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure reveals a C- overall grade. Even though there is a slight improvement since earning a D+ in 2017, it still indicates that the country’s infrastructure is “in mediocre condition, has deficiencies and needs attention.”

Internationally, 12 other countries are better than the U.S. when it comes to road connectivity, quality of roads, railroad density, efficiency of train services, airport connectivity, efficiency of air transport services, linear shipping connectivity, efficiency of seaport services, electrification rate, electric power transmission, and the reliability of water supply. According to the World Economic Forum, Singapore is the global leader in overall infrastructure with a value of 95.4 on a scale of 0 to 100. The U.S. receives a value of 87.9 and is topped by:

  • Netherlands
  • Hong Kong SAR
  • Switzerland
  • Japan
  • Republic of Korea
  • Spain
  • Germany
  • France
  • Austria
  • United Kingdom
  • United Arab Emirates

When measuring just the state of roadways, the U.S. tumbles further down the list to rank at 17, fairing worse than even Luxembourg, Demark, and Croatia.

California also receives a grade of C- from the ASCE. Nationally, you have to scroll a long way down the list to 31stplace before finding The Golden State. Nevada is able to claim the top spot, followed by Oregon, Washington, North Dakota, and Utah. While it may be surprising to Californians, Kentucky, Iowa, Alabama and New York rank higher on condition of infrastructure.

How did we get here?

When wondering how we got into this predicament, the unhelpful finger pointing will usually begin. There are many factors about why projects don’t get planned or started. But many times, it comes down to the politics behind the money. Funding for infrastructure isn’t coming in or it is diverted somewhere else.

“Maintenance budgets are one of the first places mayors and governors look for money to fill budget shortfalls,” William Reinhardt, editor of Public Works Financing newsletter, explained in 2012. “That’s because the effects of underfunding maintenance are not immediately obvious.”

Since 1940, the federal gas tax has only risen by 16.9 cents. During his administration, President Ronald Reagan twice oversaw increases in fuel user fees. President George H. W. Bush increased the gas tax in 1990, but according to the Transportation Department, half of the revenue went to the Highway Trust Fund and the other went to deficit reduction. When President Bill Clinton increased the gas tax in 1997, it was used again to reduce the federal deficit and nothing was put into the Highway Trust Fund.

In California, passage of Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, marked the first time fuel taxes had been raised in California since 1981 and getting there was not easy. Many opponents of the bill set out to repeal the tax before voters approved it.

What can be done?

As President Reagan stated in 1982, “Common sense tells us that it’ll cost a lot less to keep the system we have in good repair than to let it crumble and then have to start all over again.” Nearly 40 years ago, he stressed, “Rebuilding our infrastructure is common sense . . . an investment in tomorrow that we must make today.”

It is not a coincidence that the most successful economies in the world have efficient infrastructure. Countries that understand the necessity for businesses and the government to continually invest in infrastructure remain competitive and are able to keep an economy running smoothly.

The ASCE says the U.S. would need to increase its current spending by $2.59 trillion to push every single sector the ASCE grades up to a solid B. In the next 10 years, that’s nearly $6 trillion total in spending to fix what’s broken and better our country for future generations. Meanwhile, President Biden’s $2 trillion proposal, which doesn’t quite meet that estimate, has been deemed “ambitious” and there is considerable pushback by critics who want less spending, proposing instead only $568 billion for infrastructure.

At The Rebuild SoCal Partnership, we’ve become frustrated. Perhaps you are, too? There is a lot of infrastructure work out there that needs to be done and yet politics have gotten in the way and continue to do so.

We know — and experience shows — that nothing will happen if we all just sit here being frustrated with this crisis. That is why we are making efforts to do something about our failing infrastructure and we need your help. Learn more about how you can get involved. Join the movement and lend your voice. Share your concerns with others and contact your legislators.