Wednesday, September 13, 2017

While attention to the nation’s infrastructure comes and goes on Capitol Hill, the roads, bridges and water systems in all 50 states continue to deteriorate every minute of every day. With some members of Congress signaling bipartisan support for a serious infrastructure bill, we are at a crossroads.

Now is the time — as a nation — to make a commitment to rebuilding our infrastructure that is unlike anything in the last 50 years. While tax reform and health care are issues that divide us, we can agree that our failing infrastructure is fueling waste and inefficiency, stifling our competitiveness and detracting from our quality of life. While the scope and funding of an infrastructure rebuilding package are up for debate, we can start with the fact that we need to do this as a nation. Many state and local governments are not waiting for Congress and are funding their own long-term infrastructure rebuilding programs through user fees, increased taxes and public-private partnerships. While these efforts are laudable, it won’t be enough. We need a broad federal program to get this done the right way.

We’ve heard all the arguments against passing an infrastructure bill. Let’s tackle a few of those head on.

There’s not enough money. Solving the infrastructure funding puzzle is a little like tackling our future energy needs. There’s not one solution but many. There is plenty of money on the sidelines — among private firms, pension investment funds and international tax code reforms to create an infrastructure bank, shore up the Highway Trust Fund and help finance rural projects.

There’s not enough labor. The shortage of skilled laborers in the construction industry is well known. In our industry, precast concrete manufacturers have been dealing with this issue for years. One of the problems is the uncertainty that inaction causes. There is no incentive to hire more people and make major equipment purchases until we have the certainty of a bill. When that happens, we’ll be ready to move. Like much of the construction industry, precast concrete plants — where so much infrastructure is manufactured — are much more automated than they were a generation ago. The industry is much more productive than it was a generation ago. We have the technology and the expertise to meet the demand. Beyond the precast plant, a recent spate of mergers and acquisitions among major contractors is signaling that the major players in the construction industry are getting ready to take on the challenge as well.

Congress is too divided to do anything big right now. Isn’t it time to break out of that mindset and get a win for everybody? This concept should be a slam dunk, although the details will be hotly debated. The majority of Americans want infrastructure rebuilding, although they are unclear how to pay for it. Let’s have a national debate on what we need to rebuild and how we can pay for it — and be ready to compromise a little on all sides. A large, meaningful bill will never please everybody, but nothing of this magnitude ever could. We need to be ready to have a robust debate where all options are on the table. It will take courage and leadership from Congress and President Trump to make the case.

The nation’s precast concrete manufacturers build infrastructure. When we talk about infrastructure, we’re talking about the underground drainage systems around roadways. We’re talking about bridges — from small bridges that span creeks on two-lane rural roads to components for mammoth structures that span waterways that carry thousands of vehicles every day. We’re talking about rebuilding the nation’s aging and failing sewer systems. We’re building wastewater treatment systems, stormwater detention systems, septic tanks and grease interceptors of all sizes in locations everywhere that protect the nation’s groundwater. We know infrastructure. We know it’s crumbling. And we know how to rebuild it. We’re ready. Let’s go.

Ty E. Gable has served as President of the National Precast Concrete Association since 1994. Based in Carmel, Indiana, NPCA includes more than 600 precast concrete manufacturers and 300 supplier companies in all 50 states, eight Canadian provinces and 10 additional countries. For more information, visit precast.org.

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