Forget about "shovel-ready" projects. We need bigger, better thinking about moving people and products across the country
When President Obama took office in January 2009, he promised that " to lay a new foundation for growth....we will build the roads and bridges." And in his 2011 State of the Union address, he promised to "put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges."
But as all attention is focused on the debt ceiling battle, here's what's happening on the infrastructure front. Highway, street, and bridge construction jobs through the first five months of 2011 are running 18% below 2007 levels, and the stimulus money is fading. House Republicans are proposing to cut future federal infrastructure funding by roughly one-third. And any defaults among state and local governments would raise borrowing costs for infrastructure bonds across the country and in some cases make the bonds unsellable.
In short, a difficult infrastructure situation is about to turn worse. The U.S. seems likely heading for an infrastructure crash that will terribly damage both our prospects and those of our children.
But in the spirit of making lemonade from lemons, budget austerity may offer an opportunity to rethink our priorities and consider our vision for the future of infrastructure. The big question is: Do we want to build roads, bridges, harbors and airports to support the current consumption- and import-oriented economy? Or should we focus infrastructure spending to encourage the shift to a more sustainable production- and export- oriented economy?