Getting the coming investment in infrastructure right

Published 16 December 2008

America 2050 issues blueprint for infrastructure investment; guiding principles: Fix, Phase, Green, Train, Count

President-elect Barack Obama has repeatedly said, during the campaign and since, that he was planning to make the “largest investment in infrastructure since the National Highway System” (that took place under President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s) to stimulate new economic activity. The nonprofit organization America 2050 says that it is essential that the United States invest these dollars wisely in projects which will stimulate economic growth and ensure that America’s infrastructure remains competitive. This means it cannot be spending as usual. “A new approach is needed that establishes a new level of accountability, transparency, and economic and environmental performance for how this country invests in infrastructure projects,” the organizations says.

America 2050 says that when it comes to infrastructure, America has been flying blind, lacking a national investment plan to make the country competitive in the twenty-first century. Now is the time for change. “We should only invest in projects that achieve job creation in the short run while creating the foundation for long-term economic success and energy independence.”

America 2050 convened leading civic, environmental, and transportation organizations, as well as transportation officials and business leaders, to develop clear and simple recommendations for rebuilding America’s infrastructure as well as stimulating both short- and long-term economic growth. The five principles that should guide the coming massive investment in infrastructure:

FIX: To create jobs immediately and stimulate economic growth, the United States needs to “fix it first,” that is, invest in the repair and maintenance of the country’s deteriorated bridges, roads, public transit, passenger and freight rail, electric grids, and other essential infrastructure components that have been neglected for decades.

PHASE: All the monies cannot be spent at once. While we must get a first group of “shovel ready” projects under construction as soon as possible, there are limits to the number of projects that can be initiated immediately. A series of phases should allow for the development of strategic projects, job training, and the building of capacity in construction, manufacturing, engineering, and project management fields — all of which are essential to successfully carrying out the work.

GREEN: Priority should be given to projects that foster energy independence, safeguard the environment, promote healthy and compact communities, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

TRAIN: Investment in America’s infrastructure will create hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs, both immediately and for decades to come. To ensure that these large-scale projects are completed quickly and successfully, we need to invest in job training programs that will provide our workforce with the required skills. Equally important, the jobs should be accessible to the people in the communities most deeply affected by the current economic crisis.

COUNT: Funding must be set aside to measure and analyze the results of these federal investments and their outcomes: job creation, cost-effectiveness, greenhouse gas reductions, increased energy efficiency, etc.

America 2050 also says that a new federal oversight committee is required to both streamline the investment process and also establish accountability. The organization proposes the creation of a National Recovery and Renewal Council, comprising representatives from federal, state, and city agencies, as well as the private sector. The Council would report directly to the White House, charged with eliminating the red tape in implementing projects, as well as developing criteria and accountability measures that will guarantee that America meets its infrastructure goals, from energy independence to reduced carbon emissions to increased mobility.