Cisneros: Infrastructure is a nonpartisan issue

Henry Cisneros

As our leaders in Washington and in statehouses across the nation look ahead to the new year, they will be engaged once again in the critical process of laying out their budget priorities. One area of continuing importance to our economy and to the safety and security of our citizens is public infrastructure. Right now, America faces a worsening crisis of crumbling roads, aging bridges, thriving airports at or exceeding capacity, ports that are falling behind the rest of the world and electricity grids straining under ever-increasing demand.

According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, our nation now faces a $1 trillion infrastructure funding gap. It does not even take into account the future investment required to keep up with growing urban populations and pay for the essential modernization needed to sustain a competitive economy well into this century.

In its recent quadrennial report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave a “D” grade to our roadways, transit systems, drinking water and aviation infrastructure, defining them as “poor-at risk.” Our bridges, railways and energy systems did not fare much better. According to estimates, if present trends continue, the deterioration of our surface transportation infrastructure will cost the economy $2.9 trillion and 400,000 jobs by 2040.

In Michigan, the ASCE found that nearly 1,300 of the state’s 11,000 bridges are structurally deficient and that there are close to $14 billion worth of infrastructure needs for drinking water over the next 20 years. These are critical to the health and safety of millions of citizens.

This is not the way to grow the economy and create the jobs of tomorrow. As secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the 1990s, I saw firsthand how smart investment could help transform communities and improve the quality of life for people on all rungs of the economic ladder. We built state-of-the-art housing and developed former industrial areas to revitalize cities.

Quality infrastructure is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. This is about investing in America, in our economy, in jobs and in our children’s future. Every dollar we commit to public infrastructure has a multiplying effect: By improving transit systems like roads, airports and railways, we can move products to market more efficiently. When we invest in our power grids and fiber optic lines, we can increase the capacity and speed of data transmission, which is the backbone of our modern economy.

Increasing infrastructure investment by 1 percent of GDP over three years will result in an additional $270 billion in economic output. Think about what that could mean for the families who will benefit from new jobs and new opportunities for growth. For those who argue we can’t afford to do what it takes to shore up and improve our infrastructure — the solid frame on which our economy rests — I say we can’t afford not to.

Henry Cisneros is the former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.