Our Illinois economy thrives on dynamic and efficient transportation systems. These systems allow us not only to be productive in our daily work, but also to make it home in time for our kids' games, recitals or other important activities. An investment in our transportation systems is an investment in our economy and quality of life. The ability to move goods on our roads, rails, pipelines, power lines and waterways ensures that we can meet the necessities of our families and businesses. An unexpected disruption caused by poor infrastructure can turn our lives upside down and have a cascading effect throughout our local economy.
Just as we all suffer the consequences of a crumbling infrastructure, we all benefit from the rewards of a healthy and robust one. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, we can save our country more than 3.5 million jobs and $3.1 trillion in economic output by 2020 if we support strides to improve our infrastructure now. But if the nation's present infrastructural trends were to continue unchecked, the loss of jobs and damage to our economy would be unavoidable.
One of the major areas I fought for during my time in Congress was transportation and infrastructure funding that was critical for crowded, metropolitan areas like Chicago. Last year, I joined my colleagues from Illinois, Reps. Judy Biggert and Dan Lipinski, in a bipartisan effort to protect this critical funding stream that was threatened by Washington politics. We fought for transit riders to use pretax dollars to pay for commuting costs and to fund construction on new rail projects while also rebuilding aging bridges to help ease congestion for everyone. But these improvements are just the beginning.
All of us know the Chicago area's infrastructure needs to be expanded and improved -- and we have seen some progress. The proposed extension of Route 53, as developed by Lake County's Blue Ribbon Panel, is a good example of the type of improvements we need. With increased access to Lake County comes increased economic potential and job creation. This also will improve the safety of our surrounding communities by routing commuters away from our neighborhoods.
Another great opportunity for infrastructure advances is the improvements of small harbors. Currently, many Great Lakes harbors are closed due to a lack of dredging of the waterways, and I fought for legislation that successfully helped devote resources toward supporting our ports. Dredging is essential to provide the needed shipping paths to move goods efficiently and effectively to keep added transportation costs from being passed along to the families who use those products and services.
Investing in our harbors also helps us protect our environment. For example, one semi-truck carrying 1,000 tons of cargo emits over 537 percent more in greenhouse gases than a Great Lakes carrier transporting the same tonnage. If we can better utilize these trade hubs, like Waukegan Harbor, we can dramatically increase the economic vitality of this region and allow for more jobs for our fellow residents.
Recently, Congress began work on the Water Resources Reform & Development Act of 2013 to modernize and streamline new waterways projects through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for every $1 invested in our inland waterways $10 is returned to the Illinois economy, supporting more than 48,000 local jobs.
Our nation's infrastructure is essential to fuel the engines of our economy, create jobs and reduce the tremendous financial burdens already placed on local families and businesses. This is not a political issue; it's an American issue, and one in which we all should agree is integral to our everyday lives.
• Robert Dold is a small-business owner and former member of the U.S. House, 10th Congressional District. He serves as secretary of America's Infrastructure Alliance.