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The infrastructure bill is vital to America’s economic future

August 25, 2021, 11:00 PM UTC

On July 7, 1930, at the start of the Great Depression, workers laid down the first of 5 million barrels of concrete and 45 million pounds of steel to build the Hoover Dam. Today, 1.3 million Americans still access water and power thanks to a project completed nearly 90 years ago.

Our history is full of such infrastructure stories, each one woven into America’s can-do spirit. And thanks to bipartisanship in the Senate, it can soon be our turn to write a new chapter. The infrastructure bill now moving ahead in the House provides us with an opportunity to create high-paying jobs today and to build for the next century of American growth and leadership. 

As a current and a former CEO of large global businesses, we know how modern infrastructure makes it easier for businesses like ours to strengthen our operations, benefiting employees, future hires, and the supply chain. This is a generational opportunity to make investments in infrastructure that can help keep the U.S. economy competitive globally, make our economic system more inclusive, and rebuild the resiliency our society needs to face future crises. 

Our responsibility when it comes to infrastructure is twofold. Yes, we need to boldly invest in our future. But, more than previous generations, we also need to develop the fortitude not to be overwhelmed by the job of just maintaining what we’ve been given. Our charge is to build what is necessary to meet future challenges while also reinventing our inherited physical infrastructure so that future generations benefit from it as much as we have. 

These efforts must start by addressing a major gap in infrastructure spending. In its most recent evaluation, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a C-grade and identified a $2.59 trillion shortfall in government spending on infrastructure projects, the impact extending well beyond crumbling roads and bridges. 

We need to act now to make U.S. infrastructure resilient enough to be an asset to us in addressing the existential threat posed by climate change, a threat seen in severe storms and raging wildfires. A federal analysis found that the U.S. electric grid lost power 285% more often in 2013 than it did in 1984, costing American businesses as much as $150 billion per year. Around the world countries and businesses are taking climate change seriously, and we risk falling further behind. 

The investment levels established in the bill would deliver the largest long-term investment in U.S. infrastructure in nearly a century, with four times the infrastructure investment unlocked by the 2009 Recovery Act. Critically, the bill’s priorities go well beyond roads and bridges. If the House passes this bill, we’ll not only make historic investments in repairing America’s road network, but in areas that are vital to our future. 

Making the largest investments in public transit and in passenger rail in our nation’s history would have an outsize impact on job creation, economic growth, and greening the transportation sector, the biggest source of emissions. Rail investment will improve equity and connect cities more efficiently than highway expansions. 

Let’s also not miss out on the opportunity proposed in the framework to modernize our electric grid and start building a nationwide network of electric vehicle chargers. The nation that built the interstate highway system and ushered in the automobile industry must lead the way forward. This is the step we need to catch up to other countries.

There’s still another reason we should roll up our sleeves and get to work, though. Studies show that every dollar invested in infrastructure generates nearly $4 in economic growth. Economists also agree that infrastructure investment will create jobs and increase participation in the labor force. One study looking at the impact of infrastructure investment found that, of the millions of jobs created, 85% of positions will not require a four-year college degree. 

In 1935, by the time the final block was put down 726 feet above the canyon floor, more than 21,000 workers had been a part of making the Hoover Dam a reality. They stood up not only the then-tallest dam in the world, but, with its hydroelectric generation, a first-of-its-kind clean power project that reminds us of what’s possible today: workers nationwide building the infrastructure we need for a changing tomorrow, activating a nationwide supply chain.  

This decade started in darkness and disruption, but it can ultimately be known for transformation and bold action as we work together to shape the future we want. The choice is ours. 

We hope that bipartisanship will again prevail and that an infrastructure bill will become a reality. Let’s act now to reverse decades of underinvestment in America’s infrastructure and add to our remarkable legacy of construction, engineering, and innovation. 

Barbara Humpton is president and CEO of Siemens USA. Mark A. Weinberger is former global chairman and CEO of EY.

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