We Need Infrastructure Solutions Closer To Home

Our rivers, railways and roads need modernization. ( File Photo )

President Donald Trump’s proposal to address America’s crumbling infrastructure landed with a loud thud on Congress’ front step on Feb. 12. Neither Republicans nor Democrats on Capitol Hill are likely to support the plan, given it isn’t based on new revenue streams.

While I understand their reluctance, rural America and agriculture are in dire need of help. Our once impressive, world-class infrastructure needs an overhaul on many different levels:

  • More than half of the locks and dams operated by the Army Corps of Engineers are nearing or are more than 50 years old.

  • The American Society of Civil Engineers reports that nearly 10% of all rural bridges are “structurally deficient.”

  • Nationwide, 21% of rural roads are in mediocre condition; 15% of rural roads are rated as poor, 16% are considered fair and 48% are good, according to TRIP, a national transportation research group.

  • More than 100,000 miles of rail lines have been abandoned in the past 30 years, TRIP reports, reducing critical rail access to and from many rural U.S. communities.

In all fairness to Congress, President Trump’s plan might not take us very far down the path toward correcting our infrastructure problems. His proposal is to invest $200 billion of federal funds over the next decade with the hope of spurring at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments by state and local governments and from private funds. Of those federal funds, $50 billion would be earmarked for agriculture. Contrast that to what The American Society of Civil Engineers says the U.S. really needs--an infrastructure investment of $4.59 trillion by 2025.

A few years ago, a group of 45 corporations, think tanks and academic institutions worked together to develop a six-point plan to rebuild our infrastructure (read the total report at http://autode.sk/MakingTheGrade). Among their ideas: 1) form U.S. infrastructure regions; 2) establish a national infrastructure bank; 3) sell “opportunity” bonds and 4) Engage the American people to build support for the importance of infrastructure policy. 

This last recommendation resonates the most with me. I believe we need to find solutions closer to home--on our own front steps. One idea being circulated is for state and local governments to do more so-called asset recycling. The idea is they would manage all assets as part of a portfolio, with all proceeds going to support infrastructure rebuilding and updates. If more grassroots efforts like these were made to rebuild our roads, railways and waterway I believe we would begin to make progress. And we would do it, as Mr. Trump said earlier this month, with “American heart, and American hands, and American grit.”

This editorial will appear in the March 2018  issue of Farm Journal.