Mayor Michael Bloomberg, along with former Governors Ed Rendell and Arnold Schwarzenegger have joined forces to talk about America’s continued failure to fund the infrastructure needs of our nation. The new group they have formed, Building America’s Future, is advocating a ten year program that would devote $200 billion annually to restoring our crumbling infrastructure. They have issued an impressive report that breaks out into three areas.
The first section of the report, A Mounting Crisis, makes the case why U.S. infrastructure has fallen from first place in the World Economic Forum’s 2005 economic competitiveness ranking to number 15 today. We have let more than a half-century go by without devising a strategic plan on a
national scale to update our freight and passenger transport systems. The size of our federal investment in transportation infrastructure as a share of GDP has been dwindling for decades, and most federal funds are dispersed to projects without imposing accountability and performance measures. This lack of vision, lack of funding, and lack of accountability has left every mode of transportation in the United States—highways and railroads, airports and sea ports—stuck in the last century and ill-equipped for the demands of a churning global economy.
The second section of the report, Losing Ground to Our Global Competitors, takes
an international look at transportation infrastructure and highlights certain themes that unify our competitors’ plans while setting our transportation policies apart. Governments around the world—from the EU to China, Canada to Australia—are making unprecedented national investments in transportation infrastructure on the basis of new plans to promote economic growth through infrastructure. Guided by principles of improving economic efficiency and sustainability, other countries are devoting most of their attention and resources to building the high-tech and low-carbon networks for the 21st century. In
particular, they are investing in intermodal freight facilities and strategic corridors, and they are building high-speed rail. A comparative look at high-speed rail networks around the world offers lessons about how to successfully build high-speed rail in strategic corridors—namely between Boston and
Washington, between LA and San Francisco, and in a hub-and-spoke around Chicago—that will ease air travel congestion around the country and unlock potential economic growth in those regions.
Recommendations for Reform include:
1) Develop a national infrastructure strategy for the next decade that makes choices based on economics, not politics.
2) Pass a 6-year transportation bill updated to compete in the 21st-century global economy.
3) Be both innovative and realistic about how to pay.
4) Promote accountability and innovation.
The plan has so many features that make sense that it is difficult to know where to begin. The jobs feature alone would be a huge boost to our country. But it is not really a jobs program, but advocacy for updating our infrastructure so that we can remain competitive as a country with our foreign “business partners”. The idea that we can just let our infrastructure rot is simply not acceptable. Another point that makes good sense is the idea of applying these potential new dollars on the basis of merit, in response to studies showing what our real infrastructure needs are. We need a plan for responsible spending, not spending based on Congressional seniority. Overall, as the Mayor points out, it may appear to be counter-intuitive. But our infrastructure will crumble without the necessary new investment. And that investment, and those jobs, are needed now.