If the Trump administration launches a massive U.S. infrastructure program, the U.S. auto industry must ensure that our roads and bridges get their fair share of the funding.
Little is certain before Donald Trump's presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, but he campaigned on restoring the U.S. infrastructure. He renewed his promise in his acceptance speech. "We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals," he said.
Trump's campaign infrastructure plan was short on every detail except that it would be twice the size of Hillary Clinton's proposal. Trump still must get any program through GOP budget hawks in both houses of Congress. But Democrats also favor rebuilding infrastructure, so he could get crossover votes from there.
So if there is a program, what would be fixed?
Besides most of the chunks Trump specified, the American Society of Civil Engineers also includes rail, levees, water treatment, parks and recreation facilities, electric generation, hazardous and solid waste disposal, waterways and ports, and dams on its most recent (2013) infrastructure wish list.
Even if Trump wrangled a $1 trillion appropriation, which appears wildly optimistic, it's not enough to rebuild everything.
The society has estimated $3.6 trillion in infrastructure needs by 2020, with $1.6 trillion of that unfunded. Surface transportation, not including rail, was the big item, needing a $1.7 trillion investment but $846 billion short. Ten other categories need $1.9 trillion by 2020 but lack $765 billion.
A big infrastructure push is uncertain, but it's the best chance in decades to address a broken national road-funding structure. Congress has neglected adjusting as more fuel-efficient vehicles make the federal per-gallon gasoline tax less effective.
Open roads are an American birthright. The feeling goes so deep you feel it in your bones. But you shouldn't literally feel it in your bones.
The auto industry can't afford to miss this chance.
Roads are the lifeblood of the auto industry. No roads, no market for vehicles. Good roads mean good jobs making and selling autos.
We can argue that good roads promote commerce, permit delivery of goods and services. We can add, correctly, that building roads creates good jobs, often in areas where there aren't a lot of high-paying jobs.
But those are rational arguments. The emotional aspect is more long term but no less important.
Good roads are vital to the American spirit. The lure of the open road is quintessentially American. Few other countries are as vast and relatively unpopulated as the U.S.
Roads feed Americans' need to roam. Roads nurture our wanderlust.
I'm big on freedom of movement. I was born to it. My parents shared their love of new horizons on frequent road trips. Like many boomers, Kathryn and I passed that love to our children. They know the joys of Michigan's M22 in color season, the Pacific Coast Highway, Arizona's Alt 89 through Sedona and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
A new generation needs to experience that. We worried that millennials didn't like cars. New research shows affording cars took time, but now they love cars—for the freedom.
Too many U.S. roads need repairs or rebuilding.
Now is the time to speak out for open roads, good enough for business and good enough for Americans to move about the country.