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The Roanoke Times | File 2012
Construction work along Interstate 81.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Virginia has been in the news a lot lately for trying to address our woeful transportation system. The new transportation bill is encouraging, yet it is only the first step in building a better Virginia.
The 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure notes that for the state of Virginia, driving on roads in need of repair costs Virginia motorists $1.344 billion a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs, or $254 per motorist. Likewise, prior to the new transportation bill, our state had the seventh lowest gas tax in the entire country — a tax whose sole purpose is to provide funding for maintenance of our state roadways. Our failure to invest in infrastructure and invest in the very foundation of Virginia’s economy impacts our time, our quality of life and our wallets.
Looking at the larger picture, in the latest report card, America’s infrastructure received a D+. A D+ is unacceptable for our country, and certainly unacceptable for Virginians. The 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure from the American Society of Civil Engineers is a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s infrastructure across 16 sectors. Updated once every four years, this year’s report card found that America’s infrastructure actually went up from a D grade in 2009.
As people can see at infrastructurereportcard.org, what these grades show is that as a nation we are not positioning ourselves to succeed in an ever-changing 21st century economy. But what about our home state?
Simply, Virginia, along with the rest of the country, faces a significant infrastructure investment gap. In fact, in our Failure to Act report — a first-of-its-kind series of economic reports examining the consequences of underinvestment — the American Society of Civil Engineers found that if we maintain current funding levels, our country’s deteriorating surface transportation infrastructure will cost the American economy more than 876,000 jobs and suppress the growth of our GDP by $897 billion by the year 2020.
Infrastructure investment is linked to economic prosperity. Better roads and bridges mean businesses can move goods more efficiently, decreasing costs and reducing prices for families. More efficient businesses also create greater profits, which in turn create new jobs and opportunities for the economy to grow.
Companies want to do business in states with reliable infrastructure. If they have to worry about roads being closed, ports being unable to move their goods or the energy grid failing, then businesses will take their jobs elsewhere.
While our state’s step forward on transportation is encouraging, it is only one part of Virginia’s infrastructure system.
For example, the report card finds that Virginia has reported $6.1 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years, and a reported $6.9 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs over that same time. That is approximately $13 billion in water infrastructure that will need to be spent over the next two decades. Virginia is making an unprecedented investment in our roads and bridges, but two of the quickest ways to ruin those improvements is a water main breaking, or stormwater flooding a highway during extreme weather.
No single sector of our infrastructure system exists on its own. Wastewater treatment plants are some of the largest users of our energy grid. Ports are only as good as the roads, rail and bridges they are connected to. For Virginia to truly prosper and lead the country on infrastructure, we must address our whole system.
Political leadership on infrastructure issues should not be hard. Infrastructure investment creates jobs, sparks business growth and boosts reliability and safety for families. Virginia’s recent transportation plan is promising in that it shows that our state has the political willpower to address these issues. Let us hope this trend continues.
Building a better Virginia will require a concentrated effort by our political leaders at all levels — local, state and federal — to commit to long-term planning and sustainability, and assure our state’s economic foundation is strong for future generations.
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