The state of the U.S. crumbling and aging infrastructure and the cost involved in repairing it are well-documented.
Why the world’s largest economy has poorly maintained infrastructure is quite surprising, and the answer to it is pretty complex.
The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the country will need $3.3 trillion to maintain the public infrastructure networks over the next decade.
President Biden’s US$2.3 trillion infrastructure investment will come off short of which only $621 billion is allocated for transportation infrastructure.
The NBC’s “More than one-third of U.S. bridges are in disrepair, infrastructure group says” says that:
- More than one-third or almost 231,000 American bridges need repair or replaced entirely, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).
- Out of that number, 81,000 bridges should be replaced, and more than 46,000 are structurally deficient. ARTBA Chief Economist Dr Alison Premo Black says that “Our bridge network is underfunded and should be modernized. State and local government just haven’t been given the necessary financial resources to fully address the problem.”
So how can the U.S. find adequate funding to repair its crumbling infrastructure?
According to Hill’s article “How to ‘Build Back Better’ with public-private partnerships,” the country can harness the potential of public-private partnerships (PPP) to improve or build the country’s infrastructure. PPPs are “engagement and partnership with the private sector to guarantee that infrastructure projects are carried out efficiently, effectively, transparently and in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.”
The Hill article further says:
- PPPs have been successfully used in the U.S. before examples include the building of Silicon Valley, the launching of the U.S. space program, and most recently, the development and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.
- Even in the past, PPPs have built much of the early infrastructure of the U.S., including the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike road in Pennsylvania, in 1792 and an early steamboat line between New York and New Jersey in 1808, according to the article.
- PPPs can also be used as means to modernize America’s infrastructure. A big part – 80% of the previous administration’s US$ 1 trillion infrastructure plan is to come from streamlining and leveraging private investment, the Bipartisan Policy Center reports.
- According to the article, a barrier exists from fully taking on more PPP projects in the U.S. Public agencies in the U.S. lack comprehensive information of their asset’s conditions and future costs. Some agencies, especially water infrastructure, do not have a complete list of the assets, so the shape and location of their water mains will require further data capture and asset inventory recording.
The lack of a comprehensive asset inventory will prevent public agencies from making strategic decisions on how and where to apply limited funds and inhibit potential public-private partnerships for badly needed infrastructure projects.
Creating a comprehensive asset inventory is the first step that public entities can take to remove barriers that can help modernize the U.S. infrastructure.
However, PPPs have their flaws. One example is the private contractor of the Cross City Tunnel project in Sydney failing to deliver its obligations. The state was forced to take over, resulting in significant delays and future costs.
For PPPs to work, a shared commitment from both parties would be needed, where each one works to achieve the other’s goal.
Successful PPPs need political will, transparency, and quality of institutions and governance.