The Republicans say they want to create jobs. But making it difficult to get to work is not the right path. And it's tough get a job when you can't get to an interview on time. On the delayed Acela, one of my fellow passengers complained (despite being in the quiet car) that he was going to miss his meeting with a potential client. As we sat in the station, unmoving, he became increasingly agitated and depressed. "In this bad economy, I really can't afford not to meet him," he said.
In contrast, a friend just back from Europe described fast, efficient trains that don't break down, that are reliable, and are a source of pride.
Our trains were once that way too. A sign in Union Station boasts that when it was built in 1907, it was the grandest train station of its time. We were the best. But now infrastructure is seen by too many Republicans as government spending and therefore bad, or as better left to the states. Where would that have left the railroads that crossed our country in the mid-19th century, or the interstate highway system launched by Dwight Eisenhower? Nowhere.
America's infrastructure quality has fallen to 23rd place in the world, according to the World Economic Forum. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that it will take about $2 trillion over the next five years just to repair it. We spend 20 percent of what we used to spend on infrastructure 40 years ago, yet our population is much larger today.
Now some economists argue, "Well, that was because we were building it then. We don't need it now." But we do. Roads and bridges have to be maintained, as do trains and city transit systems. Most critically, as in past centuries, America should be on the cutting edge of new types of transportation. A nation works when it can transport goods and people easily and efficiently. And highways are not built magically. People are employed to build them.
At a time when many of the unemployed are in fact builders -- painters, electricians, ironworkers, sheet metal workers -- an American infrastructure bank would be a boon if used wisely and well. Proposed many times over the years, and again this spring by Senators Kerry and Hutchinson, such a bank would provide loans and guarantees for infrastructure projects by leveraging hundreds of billions in private funds along with a relatively small initial federal investment.
But don't tell that to those who see low taxes as the be-all and end-all and those who are outsourcing jobs to China because they can be done cheaper there.
One of the most stunning articles I've read recently described the construction of the new east span of San Francisco Bay Bridge by China's biggest heavy machinery maker. According to the reporter visiting China, "The last four of more than two dozen giant steel modules -- each with a roadbed segment about half the size of a football field -- will be loaded onto a huge ship and transported 6,500 miles to Oakland. There, they will be assembled to fit into the eastern span of the new Bay Bridge." "They've produced a pretty impressive bridge for us," said Tony Anziano, a program manager for the California Department of Transportation.