Making Infrastructure Sexy Again: Pay for it now or pay for it later



I love the word.

More importantly, I love the promise it has for America’s strong economic future.

Yet, we live in a day and age where repairing roads and building bridges and strengthening our electrical grid don’t evoke drama and excitement.

The notion that we should invest in things that won’t get built for years and in many cases won’t be something those of us paying for it now will ever drive, walk or bike doesn’t make the pulse race and the heart pound.

It’s time to make infrastructure sexy again!

Every year the American Society of Civil Engineers(ASCE) gives America a grade about its investment in our national infrastructure.

Every four years they grade us on our ability to succeed as a nation with respect to our national infrastructure.

Their last report card in 2013 was depressing enough.

Not taking action soon will make 2017 even more so.

To learn more about their grades in 2013 you can go to this link:

If our children were averaging grades of D+ at school most of us would be mortified.

Yet, when the most significant aspect of growing and sustaining our economy – our infrastructure – is consistently being given a D+ grade we can barely stifle a yawn.

According to the ASCE the cost to repair and improve America’s infrastructure is easily $3.6 trillion.

That’s trillion with a capital “T!”

Infrastructure, for those not familiar with it, is nearly everything that we depend upon in American life to function as a society, a culture and an economy.

It is our energy grid, our ports, bridges, public parks, roads, rail lines, dams, water systems – anything that carries, holds, transports and otherwise conveys freight, energy and people and products is done on or in infrastructure in America.

Infrastructure is important.

It’s also expensive.

But it’s not getting any less expensive to build the longer we delay it.

But it is getting more expensive to our future the longer we ignore it.

Unfortunately, those who are responsible for making the decisions to invest in our public infrastructure – politicians – are incapable of finding their way forward to do it.

And, those who are responsible for trying to communicate why it needs to be done – engineers – are seemingly incapable of making a compelling case for why it must be done.

America’s new President has promised to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure.

While less than a third of what is needed to adequately address our infrastructure crisis it is far better than nothing.

Unfortunately, politicians on both sides are already lining up to ensure that it ends up being virtually nothing.

Even folks who are supposed to be advancing the cause for investment in infrastructure are throwing cold water on the notion we should make an infrastructure moonshot.

Here’s a guy named Kevin Gluba, Executive Director for the Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure, already throwing in the towel:

“Everybody is putting together their Christmas lists for what they want to see in an infrastructure bill…the biggest question: Who is going to pay for it? Many of the ideas floating around are far too pricey to make into law.”

Actually Kevin Gluba the biggest question isn’t “Who is going to pay for it?”

We already know that.

We are.

One way or another.

We are either going to pay for it by actually investing in infrastructure and building it.

Or, we are going to pay for it by doing absolutely nothing.

We’ve been down the path of the latter.

Now it is time to take the path of the former.

Infrastructure is not sexy.

But, neither is a bridge collapse killing and injuring hundreds.  Nor is a dam bursting and drowning communities.  Or a train going off the tracks and killing and injuring hundreds.

There is nothing sexy about a power grid.  But, there’s nothing sexy, either, about our factories grinding to a halt or our homes going down when the power grid fails.

So, if the horrible things about our failing infrastructure aren’t sexy then it is time to make the great things about an improved and growing infrastructure sexy.

The weird thing about infrastructure debates to me is how unnecessarily ridiculous they end up being.

Republicans say they love infrastructure but then complain about how much it costs.

Democrats say they love infrastructure but then complain about how much corporate America will make if we invest in it.

For my Republican friends, I would say this:  When you buy a home you don’t flinch at taking out a 30-year mortgage to live in a house that, when all is said and done, will cost you far more than the purchase price.

Unless you are one of the very fortunate few most of us can’t walk into the bank and write out a check for the full amount of a home we buy.

We accept that there is a down payment but that we will likely spend the next thirty years of our life working to pay a mortgage that we may or may not ever fully complete.

The trade-off for you paying through the nose for a house is that you get to live in it now, raise a family and, if all goes well, perhaps sell it someday and make a bit off profit of it to live on the rest of your life.

Look at infrastructure the same way.

Make a down payment on what we need to do today, and recognize that we will be paying for it for the next 30, 50 or 100 years for something that we can use today.

To my Democratic friends, I would say this:  If corporations make money off infrastructure so, too, do the people working for them that are building the roads, the bridges and the dams and every other dang thing that $3.6 trillion will buy.

If you believe that infrastructure is about good paying jobs for American workers then stop getting hung up on the fact that corporate America is going to make a profit, too.

Unless, of course, you think that all of America’s infrastructure is going to be built by the government.

Last time I checked “built by the government” involves contracting with corporate America to build our roads, bridges and nearly everything else called infrastructure.

In about a month a new Congress, a new President and dozens of new state legislatures and Governors will be sworn into office.

There’s no better way to kick-off the New Year by making a New Year’s Resolution that the first order of business needs to be to invest in America’s infrastructure.

Whatever it takes to make infrastructure sexy again should be the priority of every elected official in America.

Pay for it now.

Or make your kids and grandkids pay for it later.

It’s just that easy of a choice.






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