President Biden’s infrastructure plan wisely goes beyond bridges, roads and railways | Opinion

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This week, President Biden is hosting key lawmakers to discuss his multitrillion-dollar infrastructure plan.

Those talks won’t be easy. Ever since its release, critics have claimed that many aspects of the plan have nothing to do with infrastructure.

However, that isn’t fair.

Today’s economy requires the definition of infrastructure to go beyond traditional transit systems like roads and bridges. The Cambridge Dictionary defines “infrastructure” as the “basic systems and services that a country or organization uses in order to work effectively.”

This definition opens up the concept of infrastructure to include the things that make society function — allowing workers to do their jobs, businesses to grow and build, and people to transfer knowledge and information.

The traditional examples of infrastructure — roads, bridges, airports and railways — are hugely important. The delays caused by traffic jams alone cost the American economy more than $120 billion every year in lost productivity. In Miami, commuters spend more than 100 hours each year sitting in traffic.

But we need to invest in more than traditional infrastructure. We need to invest in the systems that move business, communities, people, ideas, innovation and communication forward.

COVID-19 merely accelerated a shift in digitizing our world. Internet connections empowered employees to work from home, consumers to purchase goods, friends and family to stay connected and patients to receive lifesaving telehealth care.

Yet nearly half a million Floridians still lack a sufficient internet connection. That hampers productivity. If every U.S. household had access to broadband speeds of at least 4 megabits per second — the minimum to stream a standard-definition video — the average household income would jump $2,100 a year, according to a study by telecom company Ericsson.

Building out broadband networks would grow the economy by enabling workers and consumers to connect with businesses of all sizes.

Modern infrastructure also goes beyond digitization and broadband. It’s about how people are powered. Constructing solar, wind farms and building a network of electric-vehicle charging stations would make our economy more resilient to the changing climate.

Sea levels are rising, and weather patterns are changing. As the intensity and frequency of droughts, hurricanes and floods increase, so does the cost of recovering from these crises. Extreme weather events in Florida have cost $230 billion in damages over the past 40 years — the second-highest cost of any state in the nation.

Those disasters displace workers. Ahead of Hurricane Irma’s landfall in 2017, 7 million Floridians were forced to evacuate — accounting for roughly one-third of the state’s population. Another 6.7 million lost power.

Mitigating climate change would help minimize this disruption.

President Biden’s plan addresses these modern-day challenges, and more. In addition to updating bridges, highways and roads, the proposal promises $100 billion to expand broadband infrastructure. It puts $174 billion toward electric-vehicle infrastructure, which will mitigate climate change and infrastructure challenges by enabling Americans to switch to lower-emission vehicles.

These investments will generate enormous returns — in Florida and across the nation. The infrastructure package would create 2.7 million jobs over the next decade, according to an analysis by Moody’s Analytics. And for every $1 spent on infrastructure in the plan, GDP would rise by $1.50. In total, S&P Global estimates the package would add $5.7 trillion to the U.S. economy by 2024 — 10 times the amount lost during the COVID-19 recession.

As a new report from the Brookings Institution notes, “Every few decades, Americans have called for a new infrastructure vision to meet new generational needs.”

Important provisions in Biden’s proposal aim to dismantle previous barriers and help the nation move forward by laying the foundation for sustainable economic growth — and ensuring America remains an economic superpower for decades to come.

Jason Andringa is chair of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers’ “Infrastructure Vision 2050” task force. He is president and CEO at Vermeer Corporation.

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