The U.S. is beginning to lose its infrastructure advantage, which could have wide-ranging consequences, according to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. The group is offering a five-step plan to help reverse this decline.
The United States is underinvesting in infrastructure and, as a result, is in danger of losing its standing on the global economic stage, says a report published earlier this month by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM).
For average Americans, the effect is visible: passengers frustrated by delays caused by power outages and other failures in public transit, commuters ensnared in traffic jams because of structurally declining highway systems, and businesses uprooting their operations to invest in countries with expanding infrastructure.
In “The U.S. Infrastructure Advantage,” AEM offers five key steps that policymakers and infrastructure stakeholders can take to put the U.S. on the path to reclaiming its infrastructure advantage:
- focus on networks and systems
- maximize use of smart technology
- ensure rural-urban connectivity
- expedite project delivery
- provide adequate and reliable resources
Since AEM’s members and stakeholders rely heavily on a network of roadways, highways, waterways, and ports to meet delivery needs, they are well acquainted with the current state of U.S. infrastructure. “They are the ones that have the real stories to tell about how this impacts their businesses and how this impacts their lives,” said Kate Wood, campaign director of AEM’s Infrastructure Vision 2050 initiative, which released the report.
In 2015, AEM’s board of directors authorized the creation of Infrastructure Vision 2050, a thought-leadership initiative focused on maintaining the country’s global economic competitiveness through advancements in infrastructure. The 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum shows that while the U.S. enjoys a seat among the top 10 best-ranked economies, the country ranked 11th in infrastructure, a basic requirement used in assessing global competitiveness. Additionally, this year, the U.S. was given a D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers for the overall state of its infrastructure.
Spurred by these and other similar findings, AEM convened stakeholders from across the board and organized meetings and events with manufacturing representatives and industry leaders. After a two-year research process and a six-month drafting process, the five steps were developed. The report also provides both short-term and long-term solutions.
While Wood said there remain serious challenges, such as the lack of a long-term commitment to sustainable funding, the Trump administration has reenergized this issue. AEM members are optimistic about the prospect of technology-driven enhancements in infrastructure functionality, she said. Advancements such as asset-monitoring systems that watch highway conditions to transmit real-time data and vehicle-infrastructure integration that facilitates vehicle-to-infrastructure communications provide opportunities to transcend the status quo.
“It’s important to continue to patch our existing systems, but there has not been an articulation of ‘what’s next’ for infrastructure,” she said. “Once people start talking about smart infrastructure—autonomous vehicles, embedded sensors, basically making infrastructure work more for us, making it go beyond just a means of moving a car or truck across a surface—those are some of the conversations that our members are hoping to facilitate.”