Point of View

North Carolina’s crumbling infrastructure far more costly once it caves in

May 23, 2014 

As North Carolinians brace for the summer travel season, some may already be planning their departure times and routes to the beach. My advice: Add an extra hour to your trip time and start saving now.

Regrettably, we recently learned that every Raleigh driver is losing over $1,000 a year stuck in traffic. The new report from TRIP shows what families and businesses here have known for far too long: Our inability to keep up with our state’s growth is costing us more than time. Our state’s infrastructure is the backbone of our economy. Nearly every state area promises to fuel growth and the local economy by attracting businesses, and part of that promise is building a modern infrastructure system. As the TRIP report shows, North Carolina is not keeping its word.

Business is directly affected by our area’s ability to move goods, respond to changing demands and compete in an ever-evolving global economy. The longer it takes for goods to move, the higher costs to businesses and the higher the price we pay on the shelves. Companies want to do business in locations that allow them to remain competitive and attract employees. North Carolina businesses know that the costs of doing business will only increase the longer we wait to invest in our infrastructure.

While we look for solutions, our state’s civil engineers show us where North Carolina’s infrastructure woes lie. A few months ago, the N.C. Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our entire state’s infrastructure a grade of C-minus. The 2013 Report Card for North Carolina’s Infrastructure found that the state’s infrastructure system was facing dwindling resources and a lack of long-term planning. While most people focus on roads and bridges, the report card reminds us that our infrastructure is interconnected and often out of sight/out of mind – until there is a problem.

When a water main bursts, it floods our roads, wreaking havoc on the pavement, backing up traffic and forcing more drivers onto other systems. Likewise, highways are only as good as the bridges and airports they are connected to. While the new TRIP report lays out the problems with our roads and bridges, the North Carolina Report Card shows that we must invest in all of our systems if we hope to remain competitive.

For too long we have been told that funding is not available to fix our ailing infrastructure systems. We need to let our leaders know that even in lean financial times, infrastructure is worth investing in. Much like a leaky roof on a home, the longer we wait to act, the more it will cost. Will North Carolina repair the leak now or wait for the roof to cave-in?

While we see encouraging steps like the continuing use of NCDOT Design Build contracts, North Carolina civil engineers know that there are countless sewers, bridges and roads that are deficient and without funding. There is no silver bullet. However, the solution to our current infrastructure problems starts with two components: recognition of its critical importance and identification of funding.

Every politician in Raleigh, Asheville, Charlotte and Washington says he wants to get our economy moving again. Now is the time to act.

Duane Bents of Charlotte is president of the N.C. Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers

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