It seems like there's a lot of talk about the importance of infrastructure investment in Washington, but not a lot of action. The administration and key transportation leaders in Congress both say they want a highway bill before August, but the chances of meeting that goal shrink with each passing day that a bill isn't circulated. The natives (i.e., industry) are getting restless. Transportation for America put out a report last week titled "The Fix We're In For," saying 1 in 9 bridges and overpasses is in poor enough condition to be dangerous. AECOM Technology put out a white paper last week titled "U.S. Infrastructure: Ignore the Need or Retake the Lead?" arguing that highways, bridges, and public works require "urgent attention."
When lawmakers aren't fully engaged in staving off a government shutdown, the infrastructure conversation endlessly revolves around money. If you want investment, you have to come up with a way to pay for it, says Congress. Thus far, the Obama administration and congressional Republicans are dancing around the pay-for question, daring the other to come up with an answer first. (As in most negotiations, they know that the first one to offer a number loses the battle.)
Meanwhile, infrastructure continues to erode. What's it going to take to move beyond a simple pay-for question among lawmakers? Who needs to make the first move, Congress or the White House? Is it possible to have a conversation about the details of highway, rail, or transit plans when the top-level debate is dominated by spending concerns? What can industry groups do to convince policymakers that they need to do more than just talk?