CLEVELAND — As the country begins to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, America’s infrastructure stands as a glaring barrier to our recovery. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers recently released its Report Card for America’s Infrastructure and gave the United States a C- grade.
Released every four years, the report represents an average grade from 17 categories, including transportation, drinking water, energy and inland waterways. The transit segment received the lowest grade in the 2021 report.
This year’s overall C- grade is an increase from the D+ received in 2017, and marks the first time the average has been above D since the report’s inception in 1998. Despite this, continually below-average ratings highlight the desperate need for legislation and investment to improve the country’s infrastructure.
A well-functioning infrastructure is key to the success of various stimulus proposals, which are intended to get the country back on its feet post-pandemic. Fortunately, we are seeing recognition from our leaders that infrastructure is a pillar of opportunity today for the America of tomorrow.
Beyond meeting current needs, infrastructure improvements are critical to mass adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and for the United States to achieve its sustainability goals. Worldwide demand for EVs continues to rise, with BloombergNEF estimating that EVs will account for 58% of new passenger car sales globally by 2040, and 31% of car fleets. Policymakers must act now to prepare for this massive shift.
A new study by MIT is focused on identifying the necessary infrastructure improvements that will have the greatest impact on increasing the number of EVs on the road. EV drivers need to have reliable access to recharge batteries. Currently, many consumers experience “range anxiety” given the 250-mile average range of EVs, which could be a barrier to wide EV adoption.
There are about 41,000 EV charging stations in the United States, according to the Department of Energy, with less than 5,000 being fast-chargers, CNBC reports, compared to the more than 115,000 gas stations. Public planning needs to increase access to charging stations to reach a greater portion of the population. These accommodations are needed in both residential and rural areas, not just urban locations where these facilities are often readily available.
A critical portion of the current infrastructure plan is job creation, including a $174 billion investment that will help automakers spur domestic supply chains from raw materials to parts, retool factories to compete globally, and support American workers to make batteries and EVs. The proposal also includes rebates and tax incentives to buy American-made EVs. It will establish grant and incentive programs for state and local governments and the private sector to build a network of 500,000 EV charging stations by 2030. Finally, the plan also includes goals to replace 50,000 diesel transit vehicles and electrify at least 20% of the yellow bus fleet.
Without drastic improvements to U.S. infrastructure, the speed of innovation and development in the transportation industry – from mass transit to EVs to autonomous vehicles – will be slowed to a crawl by infrastructure that is currently in tragic disrepair. Local, state, and national officials from all political parties need to work together to create bipartisan legislation that generates the change that America’s infrastructure desperately needs.
The roadmap to reinvigorating the U.S. economy, achieving sustainability goals and bolstering the manufacturing industry now and for future success begins with an improved infrastructure. As an industry, we are watching history unfold and we cannot take a back seat as we work to fast-track a new era of safe mobility.
Rebecca Liebert is executive vice president at PPG, a global manufacturer of paints, coatings and specialty materials. She was recently recognized by Automotive News as one of the 100 leading women in the North American automotive industry. Pittsburgh-based PPG employs more than 2,400 employees across Ohio at nine facilities, including its Automotive OEM research lab in Cleveland.
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