BONDING WITH INFRASTRUCTURE

On July 31, 2015, just before Congress broke for the August recess,
lawmakers approved yet another temporary cash infusion to keep the U.S. Highway Trust Fund solvent. The fund was established in
1956 to pay for the construction of the United States’ first interstate highway system. Each year, it funnels billions of federal dollars to national, state, and local projects across the country.

The trust fund’s main source of revenue is taxes, mainly taxes
on gasoline. But given the relatively flat level of gas consumption in recent years and the rising price of road building, the trust fund has had to rely on short-term “patches,” like the one Congress passed in July, to keep from running out of money. Aside from being
inefficient, this approach is insufficient to maintain an ailing
transportation system plagued by clogged roads, rail accidents, airline delays, and decaying bridges. Congress’s refusal to develop a forward-looking strategy to fund the U.S. transportation system makes it difficult for ambitious infrastructure projects to get off the
ground.

But “continuing to point fingers at a dysfunctional Congress won’t
get America moving again,” says Rosabeth Moss Kanter, the Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor of Business Administration at Harvard
Business School. “We should stop debating how to save the Highway Trust Fund.… We need a new story about mobility, economic
opportunity, and competitiveness.”

That’s precisely what Kanter delivers in her new book, Move:
Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead (W.W. Norton, 2015). The author of 18 management books on strategy, innovation, and leading change, Kanter was planning to write another book
about leadership “when the infrastructure issue struck me and took
me on a detour.”

The average U.S. commuter (an average that includes those living in
wide-open states such as Montana) sits in traffic for 38 hours a year.

In fact, she didn’t take much of a detour at all. Applying her knowledge of leadership and management, Kanter makes compelling business cases for the investments in resources, creativity, and
endurance needed to rebuild and reinvent the U.S. transportation system. She also writes with a refreshing appreciation for the
corporation’s interests in the wider “ecosystem” of commercial
and civic objectives. “Infrastructure is important in itself,” Kanter argues, but it is also a good starting point to get moving on many
other problems.

Move is threaded with statistics on the human costs and consequences of a formerly world-class transportation
infrastructure that is now falling apart. We can all relate. Airlines often blame rain and snow for delayed and canceled flights, which cost the economy US$30 billion to $40 billion annually. Kanter
takes a different view. “This happens,” she says, “because of aging
infrastructure and because we are not using our own technology, not because of weather.”

The Future of Mobility
The most compelling reason to think creatively about infrastructure is not the threat of losing it, or Kanter’s dire dollars-and-cents diagnosis. Rather, it is the hidden opportunities. A compelling call to action with hopeful and informed ideas, Move contains many promising examples of how leaders in the private and public sectors are “building the future of mobility.” Kanter envisions a future in which having fewer vehicles on the roads at any given time leads to less congestion and pollution, in which more corporate leaders from all sectors make investments where good business and the public good intersect, and in transport lifts people out of dead-end jobs.

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