September 30, 2016
Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers releases a report card for the nation's infrastructure. The 2013 report (current as of post date) found highways, dams, railroads, levees and bridges in deteriorating conditions. The report warned that large chunks of the infrastructure system were approaching the end of their service life, and concluded that an additional $201 billion would be needed each year to fix the problem by 2020.
Hillary Clinton's Plan
Clinton has proposed a five-year $275 billion plan, which would be funded using money from business tax reform. The Democratic presidential nominee would allocate $250 billion to direct public investment. The other $25 billion would be deposited into a national infrastructure bank. The bank could then leverage that $25 billion to pay for an additional $225 billion in infrastructure investments. In total, Clinton's plan would provide $500 billion of federally supported investment.
Clinton promised to work with Congress to get her plan passed in her first 100 days in office, characterizing America's infrastructure needs as a "national emergency."
"We have bridges that are right now too dangerous to drive on, although people take a deep breath and drive across them. We have roads that are so riddled and pitted and potholed that people driving them are having to pay hundreds of dollars to repair the damage. We have airports that are stuck in the mid-20th century instead of the 21st century," Clinton said.
Clinton also said her plan would create millions of new jobs, referencing a White House Council of Economic Advisers report that claimed 13,000 jobs are created for every $1 billion in infrastructure spending.
Donald Trump's Plan
Trump has not released as many details about his infrastructure plan as Clinton, although the Republican nominee promised to "at least double" what his opponent planned to spend. He also said he would take advantage of low interest rates to help pay for it.
"We have a country that needs new roads, new tunnels, new bridges, new airports, new schools," Trump said at his recent debate with Clinton. "We owe $20 trillion and we're a mess."
Trump's campaign has repeatedly promised to release more details of his infrastructure policy, which they said is part of his larger plan to create 25 million new jobs for America.
There's also the possibility that Trump could adopt many of principles outlined in the Republican Party platform, which shifts the burden of funding transportation projects to the states. The plan would also remove non-road building projects from the Highway Trust Fund, and promotes public-private partnerships to save taxpayers money.
Experts Worry Both Plans Are Flawed
If either plan is executed to improve the nation's infrastructure, some experts worry that there won't be enough workers to fill the jobs that would be created.
"With the construction industry in most of the country now several years into a recovery, many firms have gone from worry about not having enough work to not having enough workers," said Stephen Sandherr, Chief Executive Officer for Associated General Contractors.
Sanderherr notes that 69 percent of construction firms are having a hard time filling positions right now. The problem is worst in the Midwest, where 79 percent of contractors report difficulty filling positions. A shortage of workers in the future could undermine broader economic growth by slowing the completion of projects and inflating the costs.
Opposition believes that a shortage of construction workers created by the kind of infrastructure spending proposed by Clinton and Trump would lead to rising wages for construction workers, and therefore attract people from other industries.
"If Trump or Hillary were able to persuade Congress to pass some kind of fairly significant infrastructure, there would be workers who could come from around the country," said former Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood.