Governor Ed Rendell lays out stark choices for America’s infrastructure

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was pegged as the lunchtime keynote speaker at Mobility 21 — for good reason. These days, Rendell is one of the leading voices for increased infrastructure investment, serving as one of three co-chairs of the Building America’s Future coalition along with former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and current New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

As attendees nourished themselves on catered lunches, Rendell provided some food for thought on the state of America’s highways, trains, schools and waterworks — and it didn’t go down easy.

Here’s a taste of the statistics and analysis that Rendell offered. They paint a bleak picture of the state of American infrastructure, and according to Rendell, require urgent action by Congress:

  • As recently as 2005, the U.S. topped international rankings for transportation infrastructure quality, but we’ve slipped fast. Today, the World Economic Forum ranks us 15th overall, with lowlights including 32nd place for air transit, 22nd for seaports and 18th for rail infrastructure.
  • Since 1980, the number of cars on the nation’s roads has increased by 104 percent, while total lane-miles have increased by only four percent.
  • The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that poor roads and bridges cost the average American family roughly $1000 each year.
  • When President Eisenhower left office in 1961, 12 percent of non-military spending in the U.S. went to infrastructure, now that figure is just two percent.
  • A study commissioned by Congress suggested that the U.S. should be investing $220 billion per year in infrastructure — but all levels of government together only invest $80 billion annually.
  • All of these factors combined mean more traffic fatalities, hours lost to traffic, increased costs of commerce and trade, and worse quality of life for Americans.

Lastly, as a primer for President Obama’s speech this Thursday on transportation and infrastructure investment, here’s a White House report [PDF] on how the failure to renew the surface transportation bill would impact the U.S. economy and jobs. As you can guess, the impact would be profoundly negative. 75,000 jobs in California alone are at stake.