Canada's Hub for International Affairs

Stephen Blank Stephen Blank was a Fulbright Professor at the University of Ottawa in 2012-2013. He now serves as Special Advisor to the Collaboratory on Energy, Research and Policy at the University.

North American Infrastructure: A less than optimistic outlook

| October 28, 2014

This piece is part of a series in the lead up to the North American Competitiveness and Innovation Conference — NACIC 2014 — held this week, Oct. 30-31 in Toronto. Earlier this month, Duncan Wood explored the opening of Mexico’s energy sector, Raul Pacheco-Vega called for regional leadership on environmental policy and Brian Bow wrote on infrastructure security since 9/11.

In the 1980 and ’90s, flows of goods across North America’s internal borders grew dramatically.

The largest share was intermediate goods – parts and components rather than finished products –and much of the movement of goods was within companies (“We don’t sell stuff to each other. We make it together”). Large segments of North America’s economies could best be visualized in the early 21st century as deeply integrated continental systems structured by complex cross-border supply chains linking production, distribution and marketing resources across the NAFTA nations.

These increasingly elaborated supply chains depended on efficient transportation systems. More …

The End of the Road

| July 21, 2014

Even those who relish watching Washington’s antics may think struggles over funding highways are stranger than usual. But the game being played out today reveals deeper factors that now shape U.S. politics. (And this affects Canada, stalling efforts we should be making to enhance our competitiveness in the global economy.)

Americans are well aware that U.S. infrastructure is in grim shape. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ latest report card on the condition and performance of U.S. infrastructure gives them an overall grade of D+ (the plus because the U.S. seems able to deal better with solid waste). More puzzling is the political storm over funding infrastructure maintenance and improvement.

The problem of deteriorating, underinvested infrastructure blew up into a crisis in the United States early in the 21st century. During the 1990s, rapid economic growth, urban expansion, the emergence of extended supply chains, a multitude of new environmental regulations and long-term underfunding of maintenance all stressed the capacity of the nation’s infrastructure. Over the next years, a series of reports focusing particularly on transportation infrastructure called attention to what one observer termed a “perfect storm”. More …