Nearly a quarter of America's 600,000 bridges are classified as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Since 1966, 1,500 bridges have collapsed. As of the end of 2011, more than 1 in 10 bridges were closed or had weight limits that were too low to allow access for trucks.
West Virginia is a microcosm of the national challenge. The state faces $4 billion in wastewater and drinking water infrastructure improvements over the next 20 years. More than 2,500 bridges have been labeled deficient or functionally obsolete. Forty-seven percent of the roads are in poor or mediocre condition, costing each West Virginia driver an extra $273 in annual repairs. And state schools require $1.2 billion in improvements.
When you add it all up, our nation's capital needs approach $4 trillion. The longer we put off this spending, the higher the mountain we have to climb, and the further we risk slipping into second-rate economic status.
The time has come for the U.S. to commit to a long-term infrastructure revitalization plan that invests at least $200 billion a year. It should focus on transportation, but it should also include our water and wastewater systems, our dams, our electric grid. And while 98 percent of the country has access to high quality broadband, there remain some pockets of the country where private investment doesn't make economic sense, so we should be open to funding new broadband networks there, preferably through public-private partnerships.
We need a national infrastructure strategy that makes choices based on economics, not politics. We need a National Infrastructure Bank to finance large-scale projects and leverage private capital. When government dollars are involved, we need to promote accountability by setting clear criteria for all funding, and by carefully auditing the results to ensure projects are completed.
To ensure bipartisan support, we must avoid abuse and speed up the regulatory process. Recent investigations by federal inspectors general found wasteful use of economic stimulus funds to build duplicative broadband networks where good ones already existed. That's the kind of waste that fuels cynicism and partisan division and delegitimizes needed government investment.
At a time when our nation is crying out for job creation, a smart and well-focused plan to meet our most critical needs can produce millions of good-paying American jobs over a sustained period of time. Most of all, we need to get to work on the railroad, the highway, and the seaport -- or else we will watch time, and the international community, pass us by.
Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania, is a co-chairman of Building America's Future, a bipartisan coalition of elected officials dedicated to bringing about a new era of U.S. investment in infrastructure that enhances our nation's prosperity and quality of life.