NORFOLK — When President Eisenhower proposed building a 41,000-mile “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways,” he was responding to the needs of the country at that time.
Having marveled at Germany’s highway system during World War II, he wanted a system that would get rid of unsafe roads, eliminate traffic jams and create efficient routes to quickly travel across the country. Supporters of this highway system also believed it would help Americans quickly escape cities that came under a nuclear attack. Today, the system that was built from his vision is old and needs to be replaced. Our political leaders need to invest in our nation’s infrastructure to meet today’s challenges.
An efficient transportation system is critical to our country’s ability to effectively compete in today’s global economy. As America’s largest steel producer, Nucor alone uses over 1 million trucks, 150,000 railcars, and over 5,000 barges for transporting raw materials into our mills and shipping steel out to our customers every year.
How bad is the condition of our nation’s infrastructure? A recent report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our infrastructure a grade of C-. While this was a slight improvement after years of receiving grades of D, it is nothing to cheer about. In addition, the U.S. ranks 13th globally in transportation infrastructure investment, committing 10 times less of its gross domestic product than China does. We clearly need to spend more if we want to get the infrastructure grade of A that will be required to compete with China.
Fortunately, President Biden has proposed a significant infrastructure funding plan. Studies have concluded that a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure spending would create as many as 11 million jobs — 11 million. Think of the impact that building a road or bridge or a broadband network that connects our rural and underserved communities to today’s digital world would have on our economy and for every American that needs a job right now.
The president also wants to strengthen “Buy America” policies to ensure that taxpayer dollars funding infrastructure are spent on American-made materials. It only makes sense that our tax dollars support American jobs and workers.
Using American products can also help our nation build sustainable infrastructure. The U.S. steel industry is the cleanest and most sustainable place in the world to make steel. You may be surprised to learn that 70% of all American steel is made by recycling scrap metal instead of burning coal the old-fashioned way. Today’s structural steel for bridges is over 93% recycled content, and much of the rebar that goes into our roads is 100% recycled.
American steelmakers like Nucor that produce steel by recycling already meet 2030 climate benchmarks, because we are able to produce steel more efficiently and with half the carbon emissions. This is how Nucor made more than a quarter of the steel produced in the United States last year, but only accounted for 8% of our industry’s direct greenhouse gas emissions.
Our climate footprint will continue to shrink as the energy grid becomes greener. We are actively investing in the development of new renewable energy sources. Last year, Nucor was the seventh largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in the United States, and we intend to continue to raise the bar for what it means to be a leader in environmental sustainability. By recycling steel and investing in renewable energy, Nucor has proven that our nation’s climate, economic, and infrastructure goals can coexist.
History has shown that America’s greatness comes from doing big things. President Eisenhower had a bold vision that became a reality. It not only met his goals of creating a faster, safer and more efficient transportation system, but it helped unleash the unprecedented economic growth that occurred in the second half of the 20th Century. We need bold infrastructure investment to meet today’s challenges. As Americans, we must embrace this challenge, and come together to build the foundation for a stronger future. We will show the world that American ingenuity can build a new generation of infrastructure that will once again make us a shining beacon of economic strength.
Vice president and general manager,
Nucor Steel Nebraska