Since 2012, Ten at the Top has been hosting regular regional forums looking at issues that impact economic vitality and quality of life across the Upstate region both today and as we look towards future growth in the region.
For the first forum of 2015, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who is one of the founders of the nonpartisan organization Building America’s Future, made the trek to South Carolina to offer insight into how and why it is important for the region, state and nation to get past the longtime failure to act and move forward on investing in transportation and infrastructure.
IGNORING THE WARNING SIGNS
According to Rendell, Washington and state governments have ignored the warning signs, whether they be the D+ grade that the American Society of Civil Engineers assigned to the nation’s infrastructure or that 25 percent of all bridges in the country are in need of repair.
“Ten years ago, the World Economic Forum rated the United States infrastructure the best in the world,” Rendell said. “Today we rank 12th and are regularly getting beat by countries like France, Iceland and Singapore.”
4 IMPACTS OF INVESTING (OR NOT) IN INFRASTRUCTURE
Rendell highlighted four areas that are specifically impacted when adequate investments are not made in transportation and infrastructure, whether at the local, state or national level.
Jeopardizing of public safety: “How many bridges have to collapse and people have to die before we finally roll up our sleeves and do something about it?” Rendell asked. “When the bridge in Minnesota or in Washington collapsed, it was a big hubbub for 30 days, and then everyone forgot about it and moved on to other issues. And it isn’t just bridges. Roughly one-third of all traffic fatalities in the United States are caused by poor road conditions.”
Negatively impacting quality of life: Rendell pointed out that according to the 2012 Urban Mobility Report, traffic congestion that results in sitting in traffic and unneeded idling wastes 2.9 billion gallons of fuel per year while keeping Americans from being able to attend family activities or from getting to work. For Greenville and the Upstate, the estimate is 27 hours of unnecessary idling time per year and a cost of $570 per driver in lost time and wasted fuel.
Jobs: “Everyone talks about needing good middle-class, family-sustaining jobs,” Rendell said. Investing in roads and infrastructure can not only impact safety, quality of life and economic competitiveness, but “according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, for every $1 billion spent on transportation infrastructure, it produces 25,000 jobs—well-paying jobs that pay $50,000- $80,000 per year—and not just in construction, but also U.S. manufacturing jobs.”
INVESTING IN GROWTH
Successful companies are those that invest in their own growth, Rendell said. He said one of the problems in the United States is that our elected leaders are not fulfilling their obligation to invest in infrastructure. He pointed to the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which has been funded in recent years by short funding measures and is currently scheduled to go broke later this year. South Carolina receives roughly 80 percent of the funding for transportation programs from federal funds.
“There is government spending that is wasteful,” Rendell said, “but there is also government spending that is vitally important. Investing in transportation and infrastructure is critical to maintaining the United States as the greatest country in the world.”
COUNTRY OF RISK-TAKERS
Rendell pointed to history for lessons on how the United States has taken risks and done what was needed to keep the country great. “Every time we needed strong courageous action, we have done it,” Rendell said. He pointed to the building of the Erie Canal, the Transcontinental Railroad and the interstate highway system as examples of when our leaders have ignored those who said it couldn’t be done or that it was too expensive to do what was necessary to grow the economic vitality and quality of life for Americans.
“We cannot be afraid to make the investments that are necessary,” Rendell said. “The consequences are too high.”