U.S. iInfrastructure investment $1.6 trillion short

Civil engineers echo Obama's call for more repairs

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NEW YORK — Investment planned through 2020 on U.S. infrastructure, including roads, schools and airports, will fall $1.6 trillion short of what's needed to maintain existing facilities, the American Society of Civil Engineers says.

About 80 percent more, or $3.6 trillion, must be spent to put the nation's critical systems in a state of good repair, the group reported Tuesday. Without higher spending, the costs of travel delays, power and water outages will reach $1.8 trillion by 2020, including $1.2 trillion borne by businesses and $611 billion for households, the group said.

"We're investing in infrastructure, we're just not investing enough," Greg DiLoreto, president of the organization, said in a telephone interview. "We're treading water, and we need to improve."

President Obama called for a "fix it first" approach to infrastructure projects during his annual speech last month to Congress as it begins the year. Republican opponents have blocked his proposal to create a national infrastructure bank. Obama has also called for a new debt program, called America Fast Forward Bonds, which would boost state and local government spending on public works.

For some Americans, the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis in August 2007 put in stark relief the costs cited by the civil engineer group. The structural failure killed 13 people and injured 145, while the Minneapolis-St. Paul economy lost an estimated $60 million. The region's busiest bridge was replaced for almost $234 million, reopening in September 2008.

For most in the nation, the costs of rundown roads, weakened bridges and aged airport facilities are more mundane, coming in the form of traffic jams and flight delays.

Plans call for $91 billion to be spent annually on the nation's urban highways, where motorists already waste $101 billion a year in time and fuel because of congestion, according to the engineer group's report. To significantly improve conditions, the amount needed would be $170 billion, or 87 percent more than planned, the group said, citing Federal Highway Administration estimates.

Airport congestion costs the nation's economy about $22 billion in 2012 and that figure will rise 55 percent to $34 billion by 2020 if current federal funding levels for airport improvements are maintained with no increase, the group said. The costs of delays will surge almost three-fold to $63 billion by 2040 without an increase in current spending levels, it said, citing Federal Aviation Administration estimates.

"Investing in infrastructure is an engine for long-term economic growth, increasing GDP, employment, household income, and exports," the engineer's society said in its report. "The reverse is also true: Without investing, infrastructure can become a drag on the economy."

The nation is doing better now than four years ago, when the group last reported on the state of U.S. infrastructure and the amount of money being spent on it. In 2009, the five-year funding gap was projected to be $2.2 trillion, according to DiLoreto, who is also chief executive officer of the Tualatin Valley Water District in Beaverton, Ore. In June, he said he would "be hard-pressed to believe" the situation would improve.