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Even large cities like Chicago aren't immune to shortfalls in infrastructure funding. In January, a 100-year-old water main broke in the city's Ravenswood neighborhood; officials reportedly had known the 3-foot-diameter iron pipe was at risk and in danger of failure. Photo: Ryan Pikkel

The executive director of America Moving Forward (AMF)—a nonprofit coalition devoted to promoting solutions to the infrastructure crisis currently plaguing the country—believes U.S. infrastructure is in a sorry state, and he believes he has the solution.

“By allowing private investors to shoulder the burden, government officials will be able to save the much-needed funds while maintaining oversight over the infrastructure,” says Loughlin. “They can keep high standards for efficiency and safety in place by instituting safeguards and maintaining ownership of the infrastructure.”

It might be advisable to take Loughlin's words of advice with a grain of salt; the lobbyist represents private road construction contractors such as Macquarie and Transurban, both based in New York City.

But just because he's a hired gun doesn't mean he's off the mark. The infrastructure funding gap is a significant crisis, and it continues to worsen. Privatization has become a frequently cited way to alleviate the problem.

In January, the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission issued “Transportation for Tomorrow,” a 258-page report documenting current and projected conditions of the country's transportation infrastructure, and recommendations for improving it. In the report, the commission encourages using the private sector to meet these goals.

“Private sector participation is not simply about supplying revenues,” the report states. “Public-private partnerships also can prioritize projects that generate the highest returns, improve life-cycle investing, and provide incentives for more efficient operations and maintenance.”

That sentiment has been echoed by various public works leaders and associated organizations.

In response to “Transportation for Tomorrow,” American Council of Engineering Companies president David Raymond applauded the commission for putting forth public-private partnerships as a solution to infrastructure funding and backed a gas tax increase. U.S Transportation Secretary and Commission Chair Mary Peters expressed concern that the report goes too far in proposing national regulations on states looking to enter public-private partnerships.

Whatever sources infrastructure managers turn to for funding, many feel that the federal government is not providing an adequate share. American Public Works Association president Larry Frevert recently criticized President Bush's 2009 budget proposal, stating that the $3.1 trillion plan falls woefully short in providing adequate dollars for all areas of infrastructure.

“This lack of committed funds could not come at a worse time, with programs facing already substantial funding gaps across the board,” says Frevert, pointing to a $2 billion cut in highway program funding alone.