Fixing America's Crumbling Infrastructure

Jun 30, 2008

U.S. Chamber Initiative Targets Transportation, Telecom, Energy

America's infrastructure—the transportation, energy, and telecommunications networks that constitute the physical platform of our economy—is showing its age. Without proper investment in these networks, the nation's economy, job-producing ability, and competitiveness are seriously threatened.

The U.S. Chamber is ramping up efforts and leveraging additional resources around Let's Rebuild America, its initiative to strengthen and expand the nation's physical platform.

"We are asking every American who is sick of pollution, tired of congestion, fed up with rising costs, and concerned about his or her safety to urge Congress and the next administration to make this issue a top priority," says Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue.

Here's a detailed look at Let's Rebuild America's three areas of focus.


The Chamber and its allies are working to boost investment in all modes of transportation infrastructure, ensure that transportation trust fund dollars are used for their intended purposes, and streamline the approval process for transportation projects.

Among the Chamber's top priorities is ensuring that Congress fully funds all surface transportation projects and addresses the $4 billion shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund under a highway and public transportation authorization bill scheduled to appear on the legislative calendar in 2009. In June, the Chamber's Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) coalition formally launched its FasterBetterSafer campaign to achieve these goals. Already this year, U.S. Chamber staff and members have stated the case for increased surface infrastructure investment in testimony before House and Senate committees. Further, the Chamber and ATM are challenging the major presidential candidates to make infrastructure a central theme of their campaign agendas and party platforms.

The Chamber is also encouraging Congress to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration and modernize the antiquated air traffic control system to allow for more efficient use of airspace and, in turn, save fuel and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally, the Chamber is optimistic that Congress will reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act in 2009 to improve the nation's inland waterways, which the agriculture and natural resources sectors heavily depend on to move goods to markets.

ATM and the Chamber are leading a nationwide grassroots initiative to educate local and state chamber and association leaders through a series of forums and events about the importance of transportation infrastructure investment. "It's easier for elected officials to make necessary and sometimes difficult financial and strategic decisions next year if they hear the public clamoring for additional transportation infrastructure investment," says Janet Kavinoky, Chamber director of transportation and infrastructure.

As part of its education effort, the Chamber is distributing research that documents the transportation infrastructure challenge. Earlier this year, the Chamber and ATM released A Transportation Challenge: Moving the U.S. Economy, a comprehensive report linking transportation challenges to America's competitiveness. Meanwhile, the Chamber has commissioned the RAND Corporation Supply Chain Policy Center to issue another report later this year to further highlight the capacity crisis.

Learn more at or


  •  A decaying transportation system costs our economy more than $78 billion annually in lost time and fuel.
  • The United States must invest $225 billion per year from all sources over the next 50 years to maintain and adequately enhance our surface transportation systems. Currently, we're spending less than 40% of this amount.
  • U.S. transit systems earned a D+ rating from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Transit funding is declining even as transit use increases faster than any other mode of transportation-up 21% between 1993 and 2002.
  • Costs attributed to airline delays-due in large part to congestion and an antiquated air traffic control system-are expected to triple to $30 billion from 2000 to 2015.
  • By 2020, every major U.S. container port is projected to be handling at least double the volume it was designed to handle.
  • Throughout the United States, railroads are projected to need nearly $200 billion in investment over the next 20 years to accommodate freight increases.

Broadband and Telecommunications

Phone companies, cable operators, wireless carriers, and others are in the process of investing hundreds of billions of dollars in broadband infrastructure. Still, there are parts of the country where people and businesses do not have access to broadband and the applications and services that come from it.

The Chamber has partnered with nonprofit Connected Nation, Inc., to launch the national Connect! tour, which focuses on fostering the deployment of high-speed Internet to all communities while increasing user demand through state and local grassroots awareness/adoption campaigns.

The six-city tour, which kicked off in Columbus, Ohio, in April, will create a national dialogue on how broadband technology can create a better business environment, more effective economic development, improved health care, enhanced education, and more efficient government.

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  • Information traveling on the nation's information superhighway will increase 500-fold by the year 2020 as demand for multimedia applications increases. For example, downloading a single 30-minute television show consumes more bandwidth than does receiving 200 e-mails a day for a full year.
  • The United States could realize a positive economic impact of $134 billion annually by accelerating broadband availability and use across all states.
  • Between 1995 and 2004, advances in telecommunications and information technology were responsible for as much as 75% of U.S. labor productivity gains.


The nation's fuel and power generation and delivery systems were built primarily between the 1920s and the 1970s and cannot fully support today's growing energy demand from consumers and businesses. Moreover, accomplishing our energy infrastructure goals becomes even more difficult when climate change concerns are part of the debate. 

The Chamber and the Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth (AEEG) are urging Congress and the administration to repeal policies that unnecessarily restrict the construction of new, cleaner, and more efficient refineries, pipelines, transmission lines, liquefied natural gas ports, and both coal and nuclear power plants.

"It's in our nation's economic and security interests to explore and produce energy from domestic resources rather than increase our dependence on foreign sources," says Bill Kovacs, the Chamber's vice president of Environment, Technology and Regulatory Affairs.
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  • No new refineries or nuclear facilities have been built in the United States since the 1970s, though several are on the drawing board.
  • While electricity demand has increased by about 25% since 1990, construction of transmission facilities has decreased about 30%.
  • In 1981, the United States had 324 refineries with a total capacity of 18.6 million barrels per day. In 2005, there were just 132 oil refineries with a capacity of 16.8 million barrels per day.
  • According to the International Energy Agency, to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050, the world would need to invest $45 trillion in energy, build some 1,400 nuclear power plants, and vastly expand wind power.

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