At a time when cutbacks threaten surface transportation programs across the U.S., a new economic analysis from the American Society of Civil Engineers says that simply maintaining current levels of investment won't be enough to avert long-term losses in productivity, jobs and household income.

Drawing on widely used transportation planning models and consumer and industry data, “Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Surface Transportation,” forecasts that, within the next decade, the added costs of dealing with deteriorating highways, bridges and transit systems will result in the loss of more than 870,000 jobs and cut the nation's gross domestic product by $3.1 trillion. During the same period, the average household income will fall by $7,000; exports will drop by $28 billion.

The extended outlook is no less dire. The cumulative cost to business is projected to top $1.1 trillion by 2040, while household budgets will drop by nearly $1.9 trillion.

ASCE President Kathy Caldwell says that while the condition of the nation's surface transportation infrastructure has long been known, the “Failure to Act” report details for the first time the economic consequences of not doing more to address congestion and capacity issues. The report claims that bringing road and transit systems up to minimum quality standards by 2020 will require a total investment of $1.7 trillion—nearly twice what the nation is on track to spend.

“The report doesn't attempt to predict the future or examine various what-if scenarios,” Caldwell says. “It lays out the real impact of staying on the current track and just how much investment in transportation infrastructure contributes to job growth and families' standard of living.”

While substandard transportation infrastructure threatens nearly every sector of the U.S. economy with losses in jobs and productivity, the impact will be felt most in high-value, knowledge-based industries such as medicine, education, technology and professional services—generally considered the foundation of the nation's economic future.

“Innovative economies will be strangled,” explains Steve Landau, vice president of the Boston-based Economic Development Research Group, which prepared the report. “Companies will offset their added transportation costs by cutting back on research-and-development programs, while longer, more difficult commutes will limit the amount and quality of work employees get done.”

This investigation of surface-transportation impacts is the first of four ASCE assessments. Future reports to be issued over the next year will examine water and wastewater systems, energy transmission, and airports and marine ports.