In determining the policies that give our small businesses the best opportunity to prosper and grow America’s 21st century economy, we must recognize the importance of having a 21st century infrastructure to support them. Once regarded as the best in the world, including an advanced interstate highway system and state-of-the-art airports that allowed goods and people to travel as efficiently as possible, these entities are now in desperate need of repairs and upgrades. Recently, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released a U.S. Infrastructure report card that graded our overall performance on key projects as a “D.”
We cannot expect our businesses to reach their full potential when the network to transport their commerce – our roads, bridges, airports and railways – lags behind our international competitors. In Rhode Island, nearly 68 percent of our roads are rated in poor or mediocre condition and one in five bridges are structurally deficient – the fourth highest of any state.
And those aren’t the only areas in which we have significant shortcomings. According to ASCE, the conditions of our power grid “can lead to system wide failures in the event of unplanned outages.” Experts also estimate that an average of 700 water main breaks occur across the country every day, in large part due to an aging system of pipes. While power or water disruptions cause problems for everyone, our small businesses are particularly affected by lost productivity and income.
To have a sustained recovery, we must get our country’s fiscal house in order while making strategic investments in career and technical education, workforce training and small business innovation programs that will help create sustainable jobs. However, we must also invest in our aging infrastructure if we are serious about reviving our economy. Failure to maintain our roads, bridges, and railways will simultaneously hold back growth, create fewer jobs for construction workers, and cost more money over the long term. Delaying renovations and construction results in an even greater fiscal burden down the road, when those repairs eventually do happen, whether it’s next year or after the infrastructure finally fails.
That is why I fought to overcome objections by House Republicans to fund a long-term extension of highway and bridge projects. The recently-passed legislation to support this construction over the next two years was an important step forward, providing Rhode Island with hundreds of millions of dollars of funding and thousands of anticipated jobs. As a result, more than 30 local projects that were nearly cut will move forward, including improvements to the I-95 bridge over Route 2 and the I-295 ramps along on the Cranston/Johnston border. Separately, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation received a $10 million grant for repairs of the I-95 Viaduct in Downtown Providence.
Now that this bill has become law, we can move forward with some assurance that our roads and bridges will receive the attention they deserve. However, we cannot afford to be complacent. We must ensure that upgrading all segments of our infrastructure remains a part of our national dialogue, including the addition of high speed rail. Our competitiveness in a global economy requires a sustained commitment to these systems, which will create the conditions for our small businesses and middle class to thrive.