The latest chapter of America’s rapidly intensifying infrastructure crisis comes with a unique new tagline. As part of a recent marketing campaign, Domino’s Pizza Inc. has started filling potholes in several towns where local governments don’t have the resources to do it themselves. The tagline for the campaign reads, “Bad roads shouldn’t happen to good pizza.”
How about, “Bad roads shouldn’t happen at all”?
Our infrastructure is in abysmal shape and only getting worse. Yet action to fund the infrastructure investment we so desperately need remains elusive. Just a few months ago, it seemed infrastructure investment might present a rare opportunity for bipartisan compromise. But despite universal agreement that something should be done, nothing came to pass. As lawmakers continue to kick the can down the road, Domino’s is stepping up to smooth out the 12 million miles its drivers travel on America’s roads each week.
The scale of the challenge we face is staggering. The American Society of Civil Engineers rated our infrastructure — everything from roads, bridges and dams to our electric grid and water systems — and gave it a shameful D+. ASCE estimates that by 2025, we will incur $3.9 trillion in losses to the country’s gross domestic product and shed 2.5 million jobs if we continue with the status quo. It’s well past time to act.
Perhaps the most troubling part of this massive infrastructure failure is the contrast between today’s shortcomings and the remarkable achievements of our country’s past. America’s infrastructure, which was once the envy of the world, is quickly becoming a punchline.
It’s time to reset our thinking. Modernizing U.S. infrastructure presents a remarkable opportunity to address safety and reliability challenges, relieve growing congestion and capacity problems, and provide a welcome boost for our economy. A well-funded infrastructure initiative could put hundreds of thousands of Americans to work, many of them in the places where economic recovery has been most elusive. And rebuilding will also allow us to address another glaring challenge too long ignored — our mounting dependence on minerals and metals imports.
Modernizing our infrastructure will require a massive amount of material. Consider the vast quantities of aggregate and iron ore necessary to produce the concrete and steel for tunnels, bridges and roads, or the copper and zinc required for miles and miles of cable and wiring for transit systems, power grids and communication networks. The list goes on.
Unfortunately, our ability to meet this demand through domestic production has been hamstrung by decades of bad policy. Despite having immense mineral resources of our own, America imports more than half of its 50 most important mineral commodities — and is 100 percent import-dependent on 21 of them.
Our broken mine-permitting system highlights the regulatory barriers that have pushed us toward such staggering import dependence. In the United States, it can take 10 years or more to obtain the necessary permits to open a new mine. In Canada or Australia — nations with comparable environmental safeguards — the permitting process takes just two to three years.
While we have suffered through a steady stream of fits and starts, momentum is finally building toward meaningful action on infrastructure investment and reform. Yes, progress has been too slow, but necessity is destined to drive the compromise and action that will move our country forward.
We need legislative solutions to boost infrastructure funding and modernize the environmental review process. But we also need to address our outdated, obstructive mine-permitting process. Failure to implement reforms that will allow us to rebuild with domestic materials would be a terrible missed opportunity.
Modern, efficient infrastructure should be the foundation of our economy. And a robust domestic supply chain of minerals and metals is equally essential. It’s up to Congress to bring us the reform that will allow us to achieve both. Thanks to Domino’s “Paving for Pizza” effort, we’re reminded again of the growing urgency of America’s infrastructure problem.
Tom Madison is executive director of the Cornell Program in Infrastructure Policy, and he has also served as a commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation, executive director of the New York State Thruway Authority and Canal Corp., and U.S. Federal Highway Administrator.
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