I find it easy to get excited about the future of our country when a president-elect is unveiling plans and the promise of change is being made, regardless of the party or person. And with Barack Obama’s pledged commitments to rebuilding our infrastructure; making public buildings more energy efficient; and fostering healthy communities with the layout of their roads, buildings, and parks, my intrigue in politics is at an all time high.
As civil engineers, we understand the vital role of infrastructure in our citizens’ lives and on the prosperity and security of our nation. It seems ludicrous that investment in transportation, drinking water, sanitation, flood control, energy generation and transmission, ports, and other infrastructure systems isn’t always a top priority for our leaders. Of course, we also recognize governments’ challenges to balance time and money with other governmental responsibilities, and are especially cognizant of the price tag associated with our nation’s infrastructure needs. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that $1.6 trillion is needed over a five-year period to bring the nation’s infrastructure to a good condition.
Without a doubt, how Obama funds these endeavors is of paramount concern, and critics are already saying that his funding plans are insufficient, will pass along much of the burden to future taxpayers, and simply won’t act as the quick-fix economic stimulus the country needs. Others disagree with these claims, including two prominent industry associations.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials conducted a survey of all 50 states and the District of Columbia and found that there are more than 5,000 "ready-to-go" projects (meaning they could be under contract within 180 days) worth $64 billion. If funds were provided, these projects would support an estimated 1.8 million American jobs.
Likewise, a recent survey by the American Public Works Association identified more than 3,600 ready-to-go local infrastructure projects that, if funded by an economic recovery package under consideration, would provide a stimulus for the ailing economy. Totaling more than $15 billion, these "shovel-ready" projects could begin within 90 days and would generate an estimated 532,764 jobs.
Only time will tell if Obama does, in fact, carry out these plans for a national focus on infrastructure investment, and if the impact is as positive for our economy as hoped. Whether or not it serves the latter purpose, I’m certain the money, if spent wisely and with accountability, will be put to much-needed use.
This month, in addition to our regular editorial, CE News provides a special report on the economic outlook from several civil engineering business leaders’ perspectives. I think you’ll find their opinions and predictions valuable as you plan for the New Year. Unfortunately, Obama’s declaration to lead the biggest government infrastructure investment since the interstate highway system was launched in the 1950s was made after the firm leaders responded. In these changing times, it is difficult to keep up, but I believe the flavor of their responses holds true.
I also wanted to let our readers know that this month’s column by Alfred Pagan, P.E., is his last contribution to CE News. We thank him for his steady commentary about our profession over these many years.