New Jersey Future is participating again this year, along with hundreds of other groups around the country, in Infrastructure Week 2016, to raise awareness about the need to invest in infrastructure as the backbone of our economy, locally and nationally.
Infrastructure matters, in countless ways large and small, to our economy, our quality of life, our health and safety, and the vibrancy of our communities. Infrastructure matters to companies that manufacture and ship goods, especially in our region, where 40 percent of the country’s population is within a day’s drive. It matters to our daily commutes and our summer vacations. Infrastructure determines if we can drink water straight from our taps and flush our toilets or do our laundry, or enjoy a meal at a restaurant. Ultimately, infrastructure matters to every aspect of our daily lives.
Despite its importance, we seem to accept crumbling infrastructure as the norm: Our bridges need repair, our potholes need filling, our transit service is increasingly unreliable and approaching capacity, and our water pipes can’t handle the demands placed on them. We complain about, but are not willing to spend the funds to fix, any of these problems.
Every year we fail to invest adequately in our infrastructure, New Jersey and the United States become less competitive, our economy grows more slowly, and families and businesses lose valuable time and money. Decades of underfunding and deferred maintenance have also pushed us to the brink of a national infrastructure crisis, and have inured us to completely preventable tragedies — including, here in New Jersey, poisonous drinking water; frequent water-main breaks; streets and waterways contaminated with raw sewage; and rail tunnels that can’t meet the demands of 21st-century transit — which should in fact be entirely unacceptable.
Because our roads are in poor condition and littered with potholes, drivers in New Jersey pay almost $800 in avoidable vehicle repairs and operating costs each year. We are the fourth-most road-congested area in the country, costing residents more than 40 hours each year in lost productivity and time with family or community. And our aging regional rail network, once a shining national example, now has a breakdown rate four times the national average.
The unfortunate truth is, all of this could have been prevented, if we had not been so conditioned to oppose infrastructure spending of any kind.
New Jersey Future is proud to be a founding member of Jersey Water Works, an innovative, cross-sector collaborative committed to upgrading the inadequate water infrastructure in our cities and towns, in ways that provide multiple co-benefits. The collaborative has brought together, sometimes for the first time, representatives from all sectors — government, regulated and investor utilities, community organizations and the private sector — to pursue the common goal of ensuring that 21st-century water infrastructure is available to serve all new Jersey communities. The collaborative recently released its 2016 work plan, and has already met several of the milestones outlined in it.
But this work is only just beginning, and there is much more to do. Our region needs and deserves a 21st-century transportation network; safe, clean, reliable water and wastewater service; broadband access in every community; and a freight network and ports that can keep pace in the global economy. Funds spent on infrastructure are not sunk costs; investing in our infrastructure is an investment in our future, and creates ripples throughout the economy. For every $1 invested in infrastructure, as much as $3 in economic output is created. New Jersey, suffering one of the slowest recoveries from the Great Recession of any state, could certainly use that boost.
As we look to 2016 and beyond, we are going to need continued collaboration among the private sector and all levels of government to identify and implement innovative solutions to our infrastructure crisis. And leaders at all levels are going to need to commit to building a long-term, sustainable plan to invest in robust infrastructure of all kinds, in order to keep us competitive on the global stage. Infrastructure, and our future, matter too much to do any less.
Elaine Clisham is the communications director at New Jersey Future, the state’s leading smart growth policy and advocacy resource and organization. Dodge has partnered with New Jersey Future, the backbone organization of Jersey Water Works, since 2013 to elevate the issue of deficient urban water infrastructure as a priority to sustainable communities and clean waterways in New Jersey, through research, convening, coordination and advocacy.