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Infrastructure investment could be “economic driver”

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Infrastructure investment could be “economic driver”

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In a bi-partisan pitch, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (a Democrat) and current Mesa, Ariz., mayor Scott Smith (a Republican), argue in today’s Wall Street Journal for a stronger U.S. investment in transportation infrastructure.

Whether it involves highways, railways, ports, aviation or any other sector, infrastructure is an economic driver that is essential for the long-term creation of quality American jobs.

When it comes to transportation, Washington has been on autopilot for the last half-century. Instead of tackling the hard choices facing our nation and embracing innovations, federal transportation policy still largely adheres to an agenda set by President Eisenhower.

Investments in transportation infrastructure–especially strategic, long-term investments–are investments in the future of the country. And as Rendell and Smith argue, true transportation investments aren’t (or shouldn’t be) a partisan issue.

Building America’s transportation infrastructure has been a national goal since Thomas Jefferson promoted canals and roads and Abraham Lincoln helped forge the Transcontinental Railroad. And still today, there remains a justifiable federal responsibility to address the country’s infrastructure decline. But it must be addressed thoughtfully, and much differently from the past. The sole responsibility can’t be left up to the federal government–from a financing or management perspective. (Indeed, given the current economic outlook, we’re probably well past the days when this made sense–if it ever did.) Instead, infrastructure investments could benefit tremendously, especially in terms of innovation and financing, from public-private cooperation.

Ultimately, despite the economic chaos we find ourselves in, we need infrastructure improvements that will contribute to the long-term economic growth of the country. Hopefully, Messrs. Rendell and Smith aren’t the only ones willing to cross the political aisle to cooperate on this issue.  
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The Wall Street Journal
August 11, 2011
Transportation spending is the right stimulus
By Ed Rendell and Scott Smith

During this time of economic
uncertainty and record federal deficits, many question why America
should invest aggressively in infrastructure. The answer is simple:
Whether it involves highways, railways, ports, aviation or any other
sector, infrastructure is an economic driver that is essential for the
long-term creation of quality American jobs.

Unfortunately, our position as the world leader in infrastructure has
begun to erode after years of misdirected federal priorities. When it
comes to transportation, Washington has been on autopilot for the last
half-century. Instead of tackling the hard choices facing our nation
and embracing innovations, federal transportation policy still largely
adheres to an agenda set by President Eisenhower.

As a result, American citizens and businesses are wasting time, money
and fuel. According to the Texas Transportation Institute, in 2009
Americans wasted 4.8 billion hours sitting in traffic at a cost of $115
billion and 3.9 billion wasted gallons of gas. Meanwhile, nations
around the world are investing in cutting-edge infrastructure to make
their transportation networks more efficient, more sustainable and more
competitive than ours. These investments have put them on a cycle of
economic growth that will improve their standard of living and improve
their citizens’ quality of life.

Building America’s Future Educational Fund, a national and bipartisan
coalition of state and local elected officials, of which we are
members, recently issued a report on the subject, “Falling Apart and
Falling Behind.” It offers a sobering assessment of
transportation-infrastructure investments in the U.S. as compared to the
visionary investments being made by our global economic competitors.

As recently as 2005, the World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. No. 1
in infrastructure economic competitiveness. Today, the U.S. is ranked
15th. This is not a surprise considering that the U.S. spends only 1.7%
of its gross domestic product on transportation infrastructure while
Canada spends 4% and China spends 9%. Even as the global recession has
forced cutbacks in government spending, other countries continue to
invest significantly more than the U.S. to expand and update their
transportation networks.

China has invested $3.3 trillion since 2000, for example, and
recently announced another $105.2 billion for 23 new infrastructure
projects. Brazil has invested $240 billion since 2008, with another $340
billion committed for the next three years. The result? China is now
home to six of the world’s 10 busiest ports–while the U.S. isn’t home to
one. Brazil’s A�u Superport is larger than the island of Manhattan,
with state-of-the-art highway, pipeline and conveyor-belt capacity to
ease the transfer of raw materials onto ships heading to China.

To get our nation’s economy back on track, we must develop a national
infrastructure strategy for the next decade. This policy should be
based on economics, not politics. Washington must finally pass a
reauthorized multiyear transportation bill; target federal dollars
toward economically strategic freight gateways and corridors; and
refocus highway investment on projects of national economic
significance, such as New York’s Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson,
where capacity restraints impose real congestion and safety costs in an
economically critical region.

It is also time we create new infrastructure financing options,
including a National Infrastructure Bank. Many of these new programs,
using Build America Bonds, for instance, can be paid for with a minimal
impact on the federal deficit.

The government’s continued neglect of infrastructure will consign our
nation and our children to economic decline. Rebuilding America’s
future cannot be a Democratic or Republican political cause. It must be a
national undertaking. And if it is, there will be no stopping us.
Let’s get to work.

Mr. Rendell, a Democrat, was governor of Pennsylvania from 2003
to 2011. Mr. Smith, a Republican, is the mayor of Mesa, Ariz., and vice
chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Both are members of
Building America’s Future Educational Fund. A copy of the report can be
found at: www.BAFuture.org