By any measure, the bipartisan infrastructure deal Congress recently struck was massive. At $1.2 trillion, it represents the most significant federal infusion of dollars into the nation’s infrastructure in more than a decade.
But despite the legislation’s eye-popping sticker price, it amounts only to a partial down payment on the infrastructure investment gap that exists across Pennsylvania and the United States.
Civil engineers — those hard-hat experts who rate bridges, roads, and dams for structural deficiencies and who assess the resilience of our electrical grid and inland waterways — will tell you that this $1.2 trillion spending spree is actually less than half of America’s $2.59 trillion capital investment deficit. No one can argue that this bill isn’t big. But Pennsylvania’s needs are bigger still, and only public-private partnerships can effectively and efficiently bridge the gap between demand for physical infrastructure and capital.
Because Pennsylvania owns some of the oldest hard infrastructure in the nation, and because these assets have a limited shelf life, residents must contend with all-too-common water main breaks, sewer overflows, and poor road conditions that cost individual motorists more than $600 annually in car repairs.
The infrastructure bill will provide more than $18 billion for the commonwealth’s physical infrastructure needs over five years, but that’s not enough investment with some of the poorest roads and among the highest number of structurally deficient bridges, poor roads, and dams at high hazard risk, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Let’s look at the numbers. The state currently spends roughly $6.9 billion to repair its roads and highways, but Gov. Tom Wolf has said it would cost somewhere in the range of $15 billion each year just to fix the problems that exist today. Meanwhile, the infrastructure bill will only provide $11 billion for highway improvements over the space of five years.
According to a national survey of Federal Highway Administration data by Lending Tree, Pennsylvania has the fifth-worst road infrastructure in the country, with 30% of its roads in poor condition and one in five bridges rated as structurally deficient. Because these areas are fundamental to the state’s economic vitality, continued underinvestment and neglect hurts working families and escalates the eventual cost of repair.
Pennsylvania is about to come into historic funding from the federal government, but it’s not enough to satisfy the vast need that exists in communities all across the state. Indeed, it would be a grave mistake to think that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will fill the state’s infrastructure investment gap. Even if monetary policy was irrelevant, the government could not print enough money to solve all the state’s infrastructure needs.
Public-private partnerships would radically stretch public investment in infrastructure by marrying it with private sector resources and expertise in the design, construction, renovation, maintenance, and operation of major infrastructure assets. This cooperative model has successfully transformed everything from parking lots, airports, toll roads, and bridges into incredible financial assets for governments all across the country, and it can do the same here, on time and under budget.
Pennsylvania has a generational opportunity to catapult itself head and shoulders above the region if it enables and encourages private participation in infrastructure because these investments — in electricity and broadband connectivity, education and health-care facilities, aviation, rail, and waterway commerce — are dynamic economic engines. Bring the private sector to the table because the government cannot and should not do it alone.
Lawrence Slade serves as chief executive of the Global Infrastructure Investor Association, an organization representing investors with $1 trillion of infrastructure assets under management.