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U.S. infrastructure and why it matters to commercial shippers

The state of U.S. infrastructure is recognizably lacking by any number of measures. One of the more prominent groups who rate infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers, gives it a barely passing D+, a grade we wouldn’t want our children getting through a class with.

The word infrastructure encompasses a variety of visible and non-visible things which underpin the American economy. There are the things we can see like roads, bridges, railways and airports. But then there are the things we cannot see but rely on every day, such as utilities, cellular networks and fiber optic cables.

President Trump has laid out an ambitious plan to tackle many of the infrastructure deficiencies or bring into the 21st Century things which have outlived their projected life span. Last week, the President met with airline executives at the White House to discuss the controversial issue of privatizing the nation’s air traffic control system. While a review of the ATC might warrant consideration, the FAA has also been operating with the same radar and aircraft tracking system since World War II.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce which represents business interests has expressed frustration at the pace of the infrastructure proposals. Thomas J. Donahue, the group’s president and CEO, lamented at their fifth annual Global Supply Chain Summit that a once in a generation opportunity to invest upwards of $1 trillion is being squandered. Infrastructure is modern ports to handle the newest and largest containerships. Infrastructure is pothole-free highways that do not add unnecessary wear and tear to vehicles and deliver goods through the supply chain quickly and efficiently.

What remains to be tested and determined is ultimately who will pay for this. Flash back to the first year of the Obama administration when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was the government spending money to jumpstart the economy. This President and Congress have a different view of funding, focused more on private investments, state-level funding and public / private partnerships. While removes the burden from the government, private entities and private money will seek to recoup their initial investments with an additional return and profit. What remains to be determined is at what rate, who pays and how it is collected.

A great example of this public / private funding model is being discussed in the Chicago area where potential toll lanes would be installed in the middle of a major interstate that according to the Chicago Tribune experiences 10 hours of congestion per day. But in a state like Illinois which has gone two years without passing a budget, the likelihood of a program like this getting off the ground is extremely low.

Infrastructure shouldn’t be a political issue. Spending on infrastructure means jobs across a wide variety of industries and benefits the country. RIM continues to monitor this issue and we encourage our customers to do the same and to lend their voices and support to local and national leaders when opportunities to improve the conditions for their businesses appear.