January 17, 2011
The classifieds in this issue include 1 notice, 12 bids & proposals, and 7 job opportunities!
Invest for Sustainable Economic Recovery
BY GREG EVANS, M.Ed., Vice President, Board of Directors, Lane Transit District, Eugene, OR
Our nation is currently mired in the depths of an economic crisis rivaling the Great Depression of the 1930s. The national unemployment rate has ballooned to nearly 10 percent in official statistics—12 percent if one counts the people who have fallen off the radar screen into the newest category of economic indicators, the “Underclass.”
The recent troubles of the housing market, mortgage lending, and the consumer and commercial lending sectors has, by some economists’ thinking, positioned the U.S. as a nation teetering on the precipice of a catastrophe of mega-proportions. In addition to our national financial issues, most of the state governments, local municipalities, school districts—and, yes, our own transit districts—are battling stifling deficits unparalleled in history.
As we desperately seek solutions to our financial woes, we tend to look past the obvious solutions of the past. Infrastructure investment has been a time-honored and tested remedy for many countries’ money issues.
The Romans, Greeks, and Persians all faced similar crises in the evolution of their great societies. People in antiquity realized that investment in public works and infrastructure was the cure of massive economic problems and a gateway to long-term, sustainable economic growth and prosperity. The Romans in particular plowed significant public and private investment into infrastructure development: aqueducts, bridges, water and sewer systems, housing, amphitheaters, stadiums—and, yes, roads—were answers to economic malaise in the ancient world.
The Romans laid the foundation, both literally and figuratively, for the modern transportation systems we enjoy worldwide today. Building streets and roads that linked villages, towns, and cities sparked further development and prosperity, leading to an ease of movement and travel for people, goods, and services.
In the U.S., our development as a great nation and world power has rested on the development of our transportation infrastructure. The construction of the Erie Canal led to unprecedented development that created the powerful industrial economic centers of Buffalo, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh, as well as the expansion of New York City and the other key ports of the eastern seaboard. The first real “depression” in America, the “Panic of 1873,” was in large part solved by investment in transportation infrastructure; at that time, railroad construction and development were the primary vehicles for success.
America’s greatest advancement and fortunes are connected to our investment in the transportation infrastructure. The Vanderbilts, Morgans, Rockefellers, and Carnegies gained their vast wealth through the direct influence of the development of robust shipping and railroad infrastructure.
The major U.S. public works projects of the 1930s through the 1960s, including the development of passenger air travel and the Interstate Highway System, have created a prosperous way of life previously unimaginable.
Economist and futurist Richard Florida makes the case for transportation infrastructure investment as one of the primary vehicles for long-term economic recovery in his latest book, The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity. Florida points to the need to develop an advanced high-speed rail network and revitalize the crumbling urban transportation infrastructure as the key to future prosperity:
“…[I]nfrastructure is analogous to government support for basic research in medicine or the sciences. Such investments, which are either too large or too risky for private companies to undertake, offer a significant social rate of return that can drive future invention, productivity and growth. We can’t always justify them on the grounds that their immediate short-run benefits will outweigh their costs, and we can’t fully estimate their long-run benefits, but they are critical for prolonged prosperity.” (p. 170)
Economists and industry leaders agree with Florida’s assessment that transportation infrastructure investment is critical for long-term recovery and prosperity.
APTA must continue to engage our elected officials on the local, state, and federal levels for a program of bold, aggressive, innovative infrastructure investment. We also need to educate the American public that this investment in our future is not an excuse for more reckless, wasteful government spending. The investment in transportation infrastructure is our future generations’ ticket to a bright platform for prosperity.
Evans is a member-at-large of the APTA Executive Committee.