Debate over an infrastructure bill may soon be underway, following last week’s release of a Republican alternative to the Biden administration’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan.
Logistics industry groups such as the American Trucking Associations (ATA) lauded the proposal as a step toward compromise on long overdue federal action on infrastructure spending, while others said they hope a final bill will improve the nation’s roads, bridges, airports, and railways as well as address technology concerns.
Released in late March, the Biden plan aims to modernize transportation infrastructure and expand broadband access, but it also includes spending on caregiving initiatives, manufacturing, affordable housing, and schools, among others. A group of Republican senators released a $586 billion proposal last Thursday that more narrowly addresses infrastructure, focusing spending on roads, transit systems, and broadband internet.
David Powell, vice president of relocation services at Montway Auto Transport, a firm that utilizes trucking services to move automobiles across the country, says alleviating congestion on the nation’s highways should be job one in any infrastructure bill.
“Investing in infrastructure is important and here’s why: The backbone of our economy is moving products from point a to point b,” he explained, adding that disruptions and delays caused by traffic congestion in major cities and on highways nationwide can add up to higher costs for businesses like Montway. “As a company, we want something that’s efficient, so that we can provide best-in-class service [and dependability] for our customers. Dependability can come into question when truck drivers can’t get from point a to point b efficiently, effectively, and in a timely manner.”
Poor road conditions contribute to those bottlenecks. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave U.S. infrastructure an overall grade of ‘C-’ on its latest Infrastructure Report Card, which gauges the condition of the nation’s roads, bridges, railways, transit systems, and more every four years. The 2021 report marked the first time in 20 years the country received a grade in the C range, indicating mediocre conditions, according to ASCE. Grades ranged from a ‘B’ for rail to a ‘D-’ for transit, with roads scoring in the ‘D’ range. For Montway Auto, those conditions can mean added costs—in rental car charges if they’ve failed to deliver on time due to delays, and in higher insurance costs when crumbling roads contribute to cargo damage.
“If I’m drastically late, I have to pay for a rental car, or I could lose an account if a VIP is extremely frustrated,” Powell said. “It all adds up.”
Technology is also high on the list of industry concerns, particularly expanding broadband coverage to rural areas and implementing fifth generation (5G) wireless networks, said Chris Wolfe, CEO of asset management solutions provider PowerFleet.
“I think the way I see the bill interpreting infrastructure goes way beyond cement and steel,” he said, referring to the Biden plan as a holistic approach and adding that what remains after negotiations will be key to responding to years of underinvesting in the nation’s infrastructure needs. “Technology should be in there, especially connecting rural areas with 5G.”
5G networks provide greater bandwidth and higher speed, allow more devices to be connected to a network, and can improve communication inside facilities, on interstate highways, and every place in between. PowerFleet offers a suite of 5G-ready products, including electronic-logging devices (ELDs) and asset-tracking and condition-monitoring devices.
José Holguín-Veras, director of the Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, agrees that expanding broadband and 5G is an important part of any infrastructure bill. The Internet has become like another utility, he explains; expanding access to and improving it benefits business as well broader society.
“The U.S. government invests billions of dollars improving a water system in Appalachia or Mississippi,” he said, reasoning that internet service has become vital for communities everywhere as well, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and a resulting need to shop, work, and go to school remotely. From a business perspective, he says such investments can boost automation and other technology-driven goals. “If the government provides the right incentive for internet infrastructure … it [will] make business sense and can benefit people in general.”