Getting the Most Out of Infrastructure Spending

The Washington Post on Sunday on Page 1 carried a broad, well-reported overview of the current policy debate over infrastructure spending and what sort of priorities will be included in a stimulus package. From “Stimulus Package To First Pay for Routine Repairs“:

Most of the infrastructure spending being proposed for the massive stimulus package that Obama and congressional Democrats are readying, however, is not exactly the stuff of history, but destined for routine projects that have been on the to-do lists of state highway departments for years. Oklahoma wants to repave stretches of Interstates 35 and 40 and build “cable barriers” to keep wayward cars from crossing medians. New Jersey wants to repaint 88 bridges and restore Route 35 from Toms River to Mantoloking. Scottsdale, Ariz., wants to widen 1.5 miles of Scottsdale Road.

On the campaign trail, Obama said he would “rebuild America” with an “infrastructure bank” run by a new board that would award $60 billion over a decade to projects such as high-speed rail to take the country in a more energy-efficient direction. But the crumbling economy, while giving impetus to big spending plans, has also put a new emphasis on projects that can be started immediately — “use it or lose it,” Obama said last week — and created a clear tension between the need to create jobs fast and the desire for a lasting legacy.

Tension or not, we’d add a third consideration as the most important: competitiveness. Infrastructure spending should balance the need for short-term stimulus and jobs creation (see “shovel-ready” projects) with projects that improve U.S. competitiveness. Let’s make sure the projects improve the movement of goods and people, overcoming congestion and traffic bottlenecks.

In the process, let’s drop the proposals for tennis courts, acquatic centers, senior centers, duck ponds and dog parks. (Seriously, mayors have included these kinds of projects.) They’re ready to be shoveled six-feet under.

NAM President John Engler discussed the competiveness component of infrastructure stimulus in his “The Last Word” segment on the most recent “America’s Business with Mike Hambrick.” You can listen to his commentary here.

Speaking of shovel-ready (backhoe-ready? dozer-ready?), the state transportation secretaries for Virginia and Maryland were on the Kojo Nnamdi show on D.C. public radio, WAMU. Pierce Homer, Virginia, and John Porcari, provided much good information, albeit stressing D.C.-area transportation and commuter issues. You can listen to the interview here.

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