CHARLOTTE, N.C. - America must seize the once-in-a-generation opportunity presented by new infrastructure funding to build communities, boost the U.S. economy--and demonstrate America’s strength in an increasingly fractious world, Federal Highway Administration Administrator Shailen Bhatt told thousands of NASCC: The Steel Conference participants Wednesday morning.
As competition with China intensifies and Russia tests the limits of its power in Ukraine, it’s crucial to continue the work President Eisenhower started with the Interstate Highway System (which, Bhatt noted, was a crucial counterpoint to the Soviet Union and helped win the Cold War) into the 21st century.
“When we invest in the U.S., we are investing in our competitiveness in the world,” he said.
And that’s more than a philosophical matter for Bhatt. His office administers more than $350 billion in Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA) funding--a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a difference, he says. That means more opportunity to revitalize American communities, too. FHWA estimates that every $1 billion spent on infrastructure could create roughly 30,000 jobs.
“[Humans] have been building bridges for more than 6,000 years, but we have never had a better opportunity to make U.S. bridges the envy of the modern world,” he said. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law could allow the country to not just tackle the maintenance backlog from years of insufficient funding but to build for the future, with an eye toward safety, resilience, and sustainability. Bhatt challenged the Steel Conference audience to use infrastructure projects to tackle larger problems, like climate change and road fatalities.
“I’m not a fan of technology for technology’s sake; I’m a fan of technology for an outcome,” Bhatt said, emphasizing that conversations around advancements in automation and smart infrastructure should center on making roadways safer and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
FHWA is already working with the National Steel Bridge Alliance and Georgia Tech to explore new innovations, like whether it’s practical to essentially 3D-print steel bridge components.
America’s fabricated structural steel industry stands ready to help transportation agencies around the country put that funding to work and reinvent the domestic transportation network. The American steel industry produces more than 6 million tons of structural steel--much of it recycled directly from decommissioned bridges, in fact, emerging from mills as new steel ready to go into new bridges with estimated service lives of a century or more.
“Every generation leaves a legacy,” Bhatt said. “Let ours be that we created a safe, cutting-edge transportation system that will support and empower our people and our nation for generations to come.”