Other countries are following suit. India will invest $2.8 trillion in vital improvements over the next 10 years, including a five-year, $500-billion infrastructure program. Russia will use rising oil revenues to invest $2.2 trillion in fixed assets. Brazil will invest $1.1 trillion, with $300 billion over the next four years going to roads, power plants, and ports.

While these and other developing countries are spending record amounts to increase their economic advantage, our country is retreating from our needs. CNN recently reported the United States spends a smaller percentage of its GDP on infrastructure than any other industrialized country.

As other nations increase their transportation capacity, we've exceeded the capacity of 83% of our national highway system. Our freight railroads are near capacity, and our transit systems can't afford to replace outdated equipment. Airports and routes are overburdened, and water ports aren't prepared to handle the anticipated tsunami of freight.

We cannot expect to keep pace with economic juggernauts like China with a patchwork transportation system.

The question our generation must answer is this: Will we remember the lessons of the past and strongly reinvest in highways, bridges, and public transportation, ensuring our status as the world's economic superpower? Or, will we continue to neglect these critical assets and squander the inheritance of future generations?

Time is running out, but we still have an opportunity. Congress begins work on a new multiyear transportation package next year. Will we settle for the status quo, or will we push our elected leaders on Capitol Hill and in the White House to fund transportation at the levels necessary to kick-start the economy and ensure a better future for our children and grandchildren?

There's only one answer. It's time for us to be great again.

— Pete Rahn is director of the Missouri DOT (MoDOT) and immediate past president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. MoDOT is a PUBLIC WORKS 2008 Trendsetter.