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Viewpoint - David G Mongan

America's real election issue - Infrastructure must become key issue in the American political campaign says President of the American Society of Civil Engineers, David G. Mongan.

Idling in traffic costs the average American motorist more than $700 (£378) in excess time and fuel every year.

There are more than 3,300 unsafe or deficient dams in the United States. Many of these are susceptible to large flood events or earthquakes and dam safety officials estimate that $10bn (£5.4bn) is needed to repair the most critical ones.

In addition, the US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that nearly £538bn is needed over the next two decades to maintain the improvements that have been made in cleaning up the nation's rivers, lakes, and streams since the enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972.

These are just a few of the reasons that it is imperative that infrastructure improvement and investment become a top priority in the United States. For America to remain the prosperous nation that it has been, the infrastructure systems that form the foundation on which our society is built must be better maintained.

However, in the decade since the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issued its first Report Card for America's Infrastructure, we have seen the state of the nation's infrastructure steadily decline; with the most recent report assigning an average grade of D and outlining a £862bn need for investment.

A key element in any successful plan for renewing the nation's infrastructure is stronger leadership from all levels of government, including the President of the United States. Given that this is an election year, it is essential that the presidential candidates address this all-important issue.

There are many things we want to hear from the presidential candidates relating to infrastructure, but perhaps the most important is a commitment to develop a comprehensive national plan and to addressing the funding issues.

Piecemeal infrastructure renewal and development is ineffective, but enacting the National Infrastructure Improvement Act and the National Infrastructure Bank Act will provide a road map for the future.

However, as a nation, we also have to evaluate our expectations for infrastructure. We cannot tax or pave our way out of this problem, and the candidates must be committed to additional funding, and researching and implementing non-structural solutions — such as transit-oriented communities, flexible schedules and telecommuting.

While the price tag for infrastructure renewal may make it seem like an unsolvable problem — the candidates must remember that every dollar invested in infrastructure creates jobs and stimulates the economy.

Flooding, contaminated water and extreme commutes are on the rise, and American eyes are closely focused on the nation's economy, renewing and rebuilding our infrastructure should be a focal point in the presidential campaign. The presidential candidates must step up and take this challenge head on. The health, safety and welfare of the American people and economy depend on it.

- David G. Mongan is President of the American Society of Civil Engineers

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