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Infrastructure Plan and Manufacturing: Details, Please

By | General, Infrastructure, Labor Unions, Taxation | No Comments

In his speech to organized labor Monday in Milwaukee, President Obama provided a brief outline of a proposal to increase federal investment in transportation infrastructure.

The National Association of Manufacturers’ policy guide and call to action, the “Manufacturing Strategy for Jobs and a Competitive America,” placed federal investment in infrastructure high on the NAM’s list of policy priorities (see the extended entry below), so we were anxious to find out more about the President’s plan.

A frustrating search…

WhiteHouse.gov posted “Renewing and Expanding America’s Roads, Railways, and Runways,” a 2-1/2 page “fact sheet” that served as talking points.

The document raised many questions, answered few. For example, in the proleptic bullet points about “tangible accomplishments,” there was this: “ROADS: Rebuild 150,000 miles of roads – renewing our commitment to the backbone of our transportation system…”

“Rebuild” is often used as a code word, telling environmental groups that no dollars will spent on new construction or additional capacity.  New roads to ease congestion and improve the efficiency of freight transportation by trucks? Not in the plans. Maybe that wasn’t the intention, but given the paucity of information, it’s a reasonable conclusion to draw.

Then, following the bullet point about the $50 billion in “upfront investment” came this paragraph:

A vision for the future. The President proposes to pair this with a long-term framework to reform and expand our nation’s investment in transportation infrastructure. Since the end of last year, when the last long-term surface transportation legislation expired, these investments have been continued on a temporary basis, even as the trust fund to finance them has fallen into insolvency. If we are to enjoy the benefits that come from a worldclass transportation system, Congress must enact a long-term reauthorization that expands and reforms our infrastructure investments and returns the transportation trust fund to solvency.

This is a good idea, a definite priority, finally getting to Congressional reauthorization of federal surface transportation programs. The last  “highway bill” — SAFETEA-LU — expired on Sept. 30, 2009, and Congress has only managed to enact temporary extensions since. A six-year reauthorization as the President mentioned would provide certainty for planning and funding purposes.

So we look for details. The Department of Transportation or the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) would surely have more details about the Administration proposed re-authorization, one might think.

Not that we can find. The FHwA site prominently promotes infrastructure projects paid for by last year’s stimulus bill, but there’s no reference to the President’s plan.

As for www.dot.gov, there’s nothing on the home page. The only mention we find of the President’s “historic announcement”  comes in Transportation Secretary LaHood’s Fast Lane blog, a post from Tuesday, “President proposes new jobs, renewed infrastructure.” But the post is just a reaffirmation of the President’s basic argument, providing no additional detail. Secretary LaHood concludes, “New jobs, renewed infrastructure, and a new model for transportation investments–it sounds like a lot of work to me. And I, for one, am ready.”

No doubt. But without a substantive proposal — at the very least, a document that lays out a more detailed plan for a six-year reauthorization — Congress and backers of robust infrastructure investment have nothing to rally to. What are we being asked to support?

It’s as if the proposal were designed not for policy, but for politics.

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Circumnetting Infrastructure

By | Economy, Inauguration '09 | One Comment

Wall Street Journal, White House Under Fire for Unspent Infrastructure Cash“: “The Obama administration has paid out less than a third of the nearly $230 billion allocated to big infrastructure projects in the economic-stimulus program.”

Michael Barone, The Examiner, “Big government forgets how to build big projects,” comparing the construction of the Pentagon in WWII to a little bridge being rebuilt over an inlet on the Potomac. Both, 18 months: “Big government has become a big, waddling, sluggish beast, ever ready to boss you around, but not able to perform useful functions at anything but a plodding pace. It needs to be slimmed down and streamlined, so it can get useful things done fast.”

Washington Post editorial, “Stimulus programs hobbled by regulations“: “[Lawmakers] could carefully exempt projects in any future stimulus from burdensome regulatory requirements, even if those requirements make more sense in calmer times.” Even? It’s also possible they don’t make sense at any time.

Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, “Rebuilding the Democratic brand with jobs, “If the Democrats focused on boosting manufacturing, with a corollary upgrade to our infrastructure, they’d tap into the only area in which the public wants a more activist government.” Trouble is, an activist government tends to make manufacturing less competitive globally.

White House blog, “Obama Administration Officials Continue to Visit State Fairs,” announcing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s attendance at the Illinois State Fair Friday, Aug. 20, “As part of the Illinois State Fair ‘Futures for Kids Day,’ Secretary LaHood will join law enforcement and traffic safety advocates for the 2010 kickoff of Operation Teen Safe Driving Illinois. Secretary Lahood will tour agricultural exhibits, visit the Illinois State Police Tent, and meet with high school students who have been helping to spread the word about the dangers of distracted driving.” We begrudge no one a trip to the state fair.

Wichita Eagle, “Grant may pay for bike lanes downtown“: “A federal grant that the city is poised to apply for could add miles of bike paths to the downtown area and convert four one-way streets downtown to two-way streets. Under the proposed grant application, the city would pay $10.5 million to leverage $24.5 million in federal money that is part of the TIGER II program.” What federal hand or eye could fund this fearful symmetry?

CNSNews.com, “White House Directive: Erect Signs at All Stimulus Projects as ‘Symbol of President Obama’s Commitment to American People’“: “The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration also issued guidance to ARRA [stimulus] recipients encouraging but not requiring that signs be posted at job sites.”

CBC News, “Feds flexible on stimulus funding deadline“: “The [Canadian] federal government is giving municipalities a bit of wiggle room on its deadline to receive infrastructure stimulus funding. The $4-billion federal program provides cash to shovel-ready provincial and municipal projects — provided they can be completed before March 31, 2011.”

Embracing Bicycles at Expense of Freight, Jobs, Reality

By | General, Infrastructure | 19 Comments

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was hailed by activists who support more federal funding for bicycling infrastructure for his remarks last week at the National Bike Summit 2010. Unfortunately, in winning points with the bicycle lobby, the Secretary departed from economic reality.

Secretary LaHood reported his Bike Summit comments at his FastLane blog today, “My view from atop the table at the National Bike Summit“:

Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.

Reading this jaw-dropping policy announcement, we thought the Secretary had let his enthusiasm get the best of him. Alas, no, his comments were actually reinforced in what he described as a “major policy revision” posted at the Federal Highway Administration website, Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation.”

Treating bicycles and other non-motorized transportation as equal to motorized transportation would cause an economic catastrophe. If put into effect, the policy would more than undermine any effort the Obama Administration has made toward jobs. You can’t have jobs without the efficient movement of freight.

On Oct. 29, 2008, National Association of Manufacturers President John Engler testified on the economic stimulus bill at a hearing of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Engler stated:

Eighty-percent of our nation’s freight, by value, moves across our nation’s roads, highways, and bridges by truck. The deteriorating condition of our surface transportation infrastructure and the challenges associated with traffic congestion have a negative effect on the manufacturing economy beyond wasted time and fuel. Nearly 20 percent of our small and medium-sized manufacturers recently reported to us in a survey that they risked losing a customer due to bottlenecks and other traffic delays over the past five years.

Pedicabs will not overcome those bottlenecks.

Now normally here we’d put in a statement about how bicycles are great, we need to fund infrastructure for bikes, federal support, blah, blah, blah. And, sure, more power to them. But c’mon! A great nation and modern industrial economy cannot operate if executive branch agencies are incapable of making a distinction between bicycles and trucks.

The House Appropriations Committee, Transportation and HUD Subcommittee, holds a hearing this Wednesday, “Strengthening Intermodal Connections & Improving Freight Mobility.” Scheduled to testify are Roy Kienitz, DOT’s under secretary for policy, and Victor Mendez, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration. Committee members would do everyone a service by posing this question: “Secretary LaHood last week declared it was now federal policy that motorized transportation should not be favored over non-motorized transportation. What in the world?”

For approving coverage of Secretary LaHood’s comments from bike-oriented outlets, see the extended entry.

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