Infrastructure — whether it be roads, rail, energy, water or broadband — quite literally unites us as a state and a country. After a weekend of celebrations commemorating the 150th anniversary of the driving of the golden spike and the completion of the transcontinental railroad, it only seems right that we now celebrate National Infrastructure Week from May 13-20.
As co-chairs of the Salt Lake Chamber’s Utah Transportation Coalition, we add our voice to the hundreds of other business and elected leaders across the country who are advocating, educating and spotlighting the need to revitalize, modernize and invest in infrastructure on a state and federal level during this Infrastructure Week.
Too much of our nation’s infrastructure is under-maintained, old and over capacity. Every four years the American Society of Civil Engineers issues its Infrastructure Report Card, giving the nation’s aviation systems, roads, drinking and wastewater, ports and much more near-failing grades that should at least embarrass us, if not spur national leaders to action.
For years, near-unanimous, bipartisan support for infrastructure investment has been steadily increasing, and leaders and voters in state houses and cities have been rolling up their sleeves, making tough but important choices, and rebuilding and modernizing transportation, water and energy systems. However, no state, city or county can tackle the enormous and growing backlog of projects of regional and national importance alone. More than 79 percent of voters think it is extremely important for Congress and the White House to work together to invest in infrastructure. We need federal leadership, we need a national vision, and we need a plan to pay for it.
With so much vitriol and partisanship in Washington, it is heartening to know infrastructure remains an issue both sides of the aisle can get behind, yet with Utah’s exploding growth, we can’t wait around or rely solely on the federal government to act. Instead, national leaders can look to Utah as a leading example of prioritizing infrastructure investment and maintenance. Paying for and maintaining the infrastructure of the future requires creative solutions.
Recent state legislation opened the door for public-private partnerships – allowing for private capital to contribute to the funding of crucial infrastructure projects. These partnerships can be used as a tool for procuring or managing public infrastructure projects and will allocate design, construction, financing and long-term maintenance risks to the party best equipped to address them.
Public-private partnerships will also aid in addressing the astounding $67.5 billion in new infrastructure and maintenance costs expected over the next 20 years in Utah alone. Public-private partnerships and other innovative approaches to funding and revitalizing our infrastructure will continue to help Utah stay competitive and keep up with growth.
In her speech at the Spike 150 celebration, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao mentioned that as one of the most significant infrastructure projects in history, the railroad was key to unleashing the economic prosperity of the United States for generations to come. We see the reality of this today as infrastructure of all kinds move people, goods, energy, power, water, broadband and much more across our state, nation and the globe. Economic opportunity is directly tied with building, maintaining and investing in infrastructure.
While federal leadership and direction is critical to ensuring our infrastructure continues to connect the United States, Utah’s track record of bringing creative and innovative solutions to the table will surely play an important role in the future of infrastructure in America, just as it did 150 years ago.
Theresa Foxley, president and CEO of EDCUtah, and Wade Sherman, vice president and deputy general counsel of enterprise/DX business at Adobe Inc., are co-chairs of the Salt Lake Chamber’s Utah Transportation Coalition.