Time to Think Big

by Jan Wright, Publisher

“America is one big pothole!” Though he does not repeat the famous soundbite in this issue’s guest editorial, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood continues to sound the alarm: our nation’s infrastructure is facing a breaking point.

Along with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, LaHood co-chairs Building America’s Future (BAF), a bipartisan coalition of current and former elected officials from across the country. According to BAF’s vision document (available at bafuture.org): “Our nation’s refusal to face facts and take care of our roads, rails, bridges and pipelines has very real consequences—both for public safety and for the economy. The cost of not fixing our infrastructure could lead to a $3.9 trillion loss in GDP by 2025.”

Maintenance of existing infrastructure is neither fun nor “sexy”—but it is just as critical to our economy and way of life as new development. In fact, the two go hand in hand. Recall what Peoria’s Warehouse District looked like five or six years ago: nothing was happening. It took more than $30 million of federal, state and local dollars of infrastructure improvements (not to mention historic tax credits) before private development could occur.

Infrastructure is the foundation on which we build. Business depends on our roadways, ports and airports to move goods (and people) from one place to another. Water service, electricity and the internet are non-negotiable essentials.

Who hasn’t watched in horror… the television footage of bridges collapsing and cars falling into sinkholes, of brown water trickling from the faucets of Flint, Michigan, of the evacuation of 200,000 California residents whose only offense was to own homes near our country’s tallest dam?

The need to invest in our infrastructure is not just about maintaining the status quo; it’s about facilitating a better future. From self-driving cars to smart-grid technology to high-speed passenger rail, technologies that are already available today can improve public safety and facilitate economic development—and further transformation is inevitable. New industries can arise, building upon this foundation, but only if we make the investment.

As is too often the case, politics clouds the critical decision making that must take place. But if we do not care for what we have, we will find ourselves playing catch-up as the rest of the world cruises by. BAF’s vision for a long-term infrastructure strategy—one that relies “on policy innovations rather than political considerations”—has never rung so true: “It is time to think big.” iBi