The Private Sector Can Improve Our Crumbling Infrastructure

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Douglas L. Peterson is President and CEO of S&P Global and Susan Story is President and CEO of American Water. They are co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Executive Council on Infrastructure.

It’s time to break the status quo

America was built on the spirit of pioneering, entrepreneurialism, and innovation. Decades ago, these trailblazers created an unparalleled system of highways, mass transit, ports, railroads and waterways. They moved people and goods from New York to Miami, created jobs and new cities, and allowed commerce and industries to grow across the United States. Today, that infrastructure has outlived its useful life and become unsafe, unusable, and inefficient. Yet the resources seem elusive to solve such a glaring problem.

Our daily lives, communities and economy depend on functioning infrastructure. But too often, it is not until these critical arteries rupture that we pay attention. Infrastructure demands long-term planning and investment. We have to look beyond the ribbon cuttings and make investment decisions based on the full life cycles and sustainability of infrastructure projects—from planning and construction to operations and maintenance.

Our country’s degraded infrastructure, sorely in need of repair and new investment, coupled with other necessary competing pressures on public budgets, creates a perfect storm. With limited resources, immediate maintenance needs have often been the primary focus. However, in discounting the life cycle costs inherent in any project and the mounting risks of unsafe infrastructure, new investments fail to be made.

Recently, the Bay Area Rapid Transit System, or BART, gained national attention for its candid assessment of the problem. After a particularly challenging day that included multiple hour-long delays, @SFBART tweeted: “BART was built to transport far fewer people, and much of our system has reached the end of its useful life. This is our reality.”


On the other side of the country in Washington, D.C., the Metro system faces similar scrutiny. Recent issues have brought to light the liabilities and risks inherent in decades of deferred maintenance.

In fact, this reality is reflected across the country, by different agencies, managing different infrastructure systems. In the U.S. today, the epidemic of mounting liabilities is chronic. Just last week, the American Society of Civil Engineers said the country faces a $1.4 trillion funding gap in needed infrastructure investments between now and 2025. Not surprisingly, a recent survey of mayors cited underinvestment in infrastructure as their number one concern.

For a nation that thrives on competition and leading others, we have fallen too far behind in our roads, bridges, waterways, and airports just to name a few.

It is long overdue that leaders step up to the plate and engage the same innovative approach to investing in infrastructure that those pioneers, entrepreneurs, innovators and capitalists employed decades ago as the foundation of the U.S. economy.

The public sector does not have to bear this responsibility alone. Working with the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Executive Council on Infrastructure, a group of CEOs are calling on government and business leaders to form a partnership and break the infrastructure status quo.

The private sector stands ready to work with the public sector and achieve a better outcome for the taxpayer and the economy. We can provide capital, risk sharing, project and property management experience, innovative solutions, and valuable expertise, which can reduce future public infrastructure liabilities and lower overall costs. Partnerships between the public and private sectors will incentivize long-term thinking about a project’s design, construction, operations, and maintenance.

Key to making all of this successful, however, is a transparent process for public outreach and engagement, with ongoing opportunities for stakeholder feedback. In a 2015 survey from JD Power, fifty-five percent of respondents indicated a positive perspective on public private partnerships, as opposed to a mere six percent who voiced opposition. With efforts to increase education, engagement and transparency, we believe we can increase the public’s confidence even more.

We have an extraordinary opportunity in America—to relieve the pressure being placed on our nation’s roads, water systems, ports and energy grid with available private capital. While public-private partnerships alone won’t be able to address the entire $2 trillion in investment needed, we believe they can have a transformative impact on the way we develop and maintain all of our infrastructure. As leaders, we must step up and commit more than ideas to solve this increasingly urgent issue facing our nation. We must commit to being partners with taxpayers and policy officials to change the end game for future generations. Together the public and private sectors can establish a new model for infrastructure investment.


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