The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently released its report card on the United States’ aging infrastructure and like any school report card, the “D+” mark given would get any underperforming student sent to the principal’s office. There is plenty of factual data to support the view that our nation’s critical infrastructure is failing.
Most of the Interstate highway system in the U.S. is more than 50 years old, and the U.S. Department of Transportation puts a price tag of $189 billion to address needed repairs and improvements. A similar predicament exists for U.S. bridges. Tragic failures, such as the collapse of the eight-lane I-35W Highway Bridge in Minneapolis that resulted in 13 deaths and 145 injuries, and the 2015 collapse of a bridge on Interstate 10 in Southern California that stranded hundreds of motorists, underscore the need for urgent repair and replacement.
There are an estimated 1.2 million miles of water main pipes in the U.S and 240,000 water main breaks per year. Aging energy infrastructure has resulted in an increased number of intermittent power disruptions, as well as vulnerability to cyber attacks. Power outages potentially can shut down telecommunications networks and financial services, as well as transportation and water systems.
The impact of this deterioration is wreaking havoc on many of our nation’s businesses, strangling their ability to thrive. As the problem drags on without resolution this is essentially a silent and ever-increasing tax on businesses and consumers. The ASCE estimates that by 2020, “aging and unreliable” infrastructure will cost American businesses $1.2 trillion.
U.S. businesses spend $27 billion in additional freight costs due to poor conditions of roads and other surface transportation infrastructure. The average cost of a one-hour power outage is just over $1,000 for a commercial business in the U.S., but even a very short interruption of a second or two can cost $733. In addition, the electric grid’s inability to withstand weather-related outages costs the U.S. economy an average of $18 billion to $33 billion each year. These businesses also incur additional costs for insurance coverage, such as property, workers’ compensation, supply chain, and business interruption insurance due to the increased risks associated with aging infrastructure.
In an ASCE 2016 economic study, Failure to Act: Closing the Infrastructure Investment Gap for America’s Economic Future, losses to the national economy due to infrastructure investment gaps are expected to be more than $7 trillion in business sales through 2025, while loss in GDP is expected to be $3.9 trillion during the same period. Two-and-a-half million jobs will be lost.
ASCE estimates that the nation’s infrastructure needs total $4.56 trillion through 2025, and based on current funding levels, the nation will come up more than $2 trillion short.
With a new administration and a new Congress in place, there’s been renewed momentum and discussion on infrastructure investment — how to pay for it and what a national infrastructure rebuilding program could look like. What’s unclear is the right approach to doing all of this. Instead of refilling the same pot holes over and over, does it make more sense to embark on sustainable building solutions by putting dollars into long-term investments instead of quick fixes?
How do we use the opportunity to consider infrastructure investments that are real game-changers? How do we create transformative infrastructure projects that will help our businesses thrive? Infrastructure investment is key. The right kind of investment — with input from private and public sectors — will make all the difference for businesses and for our economy.
Paul Horgan is head of North America commercial insurance, Zurich North America.