Here's what an infrastructure plan needs to prepare us for the future

President Trump announced the outline of his long awaited infrastructure plan during his first State of the Union address Tuesday night. While broad bipartisan support exists for addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs, how to fund the $1.5 trillion plan continues to be a significant point of contention.

The president’s remarks confirmed rumors that have swirled for weeks about plans for leveraging federal dollars to catalyze public and private investment, and close critical infrastructure funding gaps. How these approaches materialize in a final plan is anyone’s guess, but after experiencing $306.2 billion in natural disaster-related damages in 2017, one thing remains abundantly clear, an infrastructure plan that fails to integrate and prioritize resilience and sustainability will lock the U.S. into a costly business-as-usual development pathway that makes us ill prepared for a changing climate. Unfortunately, the risks posed by rising sea levels and extreme storms are only the tip of the iceberg. A new report from Moody’s warns cities and states of potential credit downgrades from failing to develop climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.

The U.S. faces a $2 trillion infrastructure funding gap through 2025. Failing to close this gap has serious economic consequences including losses to GDP, business sales, and jobs. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates failing to close the infrastructure investment gap costs US families $3,400 in disposable income per year. Filling this gap will not only require active partnership and collaboration between the public and private sectors, but also a commitment to inform our infrastructure investment decisions with the latest available science and technology. Infrastructure that integrates principles of sustainability and resilience fits that bill.

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New report: Unlocking Private Capital to Finance Sustainable Infrastructure

When two large storms knocked out an estimated $200 billion in economic value within a week, critical gaps in our infrastructure preparedness were laid bare. The 2016 “Hell or High Water” series from ProPublica and The Texas Tribune predicted a scenario that “visualizes the full spectrum of what awaits Houston” if it were hit by a large-scale hurricane. Experts consulted for the series cite Houston’s unimpeded development as a principal factor contributing to the region’s high exposure to flood risks.

According to Rice University engineering professor Phil Bedient, there is no way to design a system to handle the volume of water that Hurricane Harvey dumped on the greater Houston area. That said, if Houston hopes to arrive at a cost effective solution for mitigating future flood damage, Bedient recommends targeted, balanced investments in green and gray infrastructure. Read more