For the past five years, the Urban Land Institute and Ernst & Young have sponsored an annual report on infrastructure in the United States and around the world. The ULI then sends spokesman Ed McMahon to its regional meetings to summarize the report. Ed is a great speaker and presents the dismal state of U.S. Infrastructure in piercing fashion with the aid of excellent data illustrated in clear graphics. For those of us in the real estate development industry, his message is shocking.
The condition of American infrastructure – roads, bridges, water lines, sewage treatment plants and dams serving the primary economic centers – is deplorable. What’s worse is that there is no concrete plan to update systems that are many decades old, let alone bolster them with new equipment. Governor Rick Scott of Florida gained a nationwide reputation when he turned down a $2.4 billion federal grant for initiating a high speed rail line to alleviate traffic congestion between Tampa and Orlando, by stating that he didn’t believe it would work — this decision from a former executive of health care facilities with a stated mission to cut government costs. Of course, the grant money was re-distributed to other states while Florida’s traffic congestion continues to limit economic growth.
Ed McMahon reported that our entire current national budget for infrastructure is $2.4 billion – the lowest of any developed nation. The United Kingdom , in comparison, has a budget of over twice as much ($5.4 billion) for maintenance and improvement of infrastructure in a country the size of Wisconsin. Both China and India, on the other hand, have each budgeted $1 trillion over the next five years for infrastructure. The leaders of these rapidly expanding countries understand the need to provide physical support for economic growth rather than simply argue about the philosophy of growth generation. Our country appears to have little issue with spending $700 billion annually on global conflicts in the name of defense, while our nation’s infrastructure continues to deteriorate through lack of attention.
I have no idea whether the ULI/Ernst & Young report is read by elected officials (apparently not by Governor Scott) or even their professional staff members. I do know that this country’s continuing population expansion will place even greater demands upon our aging infrastructure than in the past. It is a condition that threatens to constrain our economy much greater than the private money market. Regardless of rhetoric to the contrary, businesses cannot expand without government support. Our nationwide infrastructure is a key component of that support. Please make your voice heard in Washington.
David F. Parker