Marine Transportation System

Posts Tagged ‘opinion’

The Connective Tissue of a Nation

In Federal Government, Infrastructure on November 17, 2009 at 4:13 pm

You can’t thrive as a nation while New Orleans is drowning…and cities in upstate New York and the Rust Belt are rotting from lack of employment opportunities, and so on.   Imagine, instead, an America with rebuilt, healthy, dynamic metropolitan areas, and gleaming new port facilities, and networks of high-speed rail, an America with electric vehicles and a smart grid and energy generated by the power of the sun and wind and water and the ocean’s waves. (“What the Future May Hold”, November 17, 2009)

Bob Herbert of the New York Times has penned several columns about our crumbling infrastructure. How many times can writers like Herbert belabor the point?  Not enough.

Eugene Robinson of the WPost:  It’s unrealistic to think this disaster is going to spur the nation to seriously address all its infrastructure problems. We’ll talk about the issue for a while, then go out and buy another TV. But we can—and should—at least do a more rigorous inventory and identify the structures that pose the most peril. Yes, it’s boring stuff to even think about. But just look at the alternative. (“Back to Basics”, August 2, 2007)

David Brooks of the NYT:    In times like these, the best a sensible leader can do is to take the short-term panic and channel it into a program that is good on its own merits even if it does nothing to stimulate the economy over the next year. That’s why I’m hoping the next president takes the general resolve to spend gobs of money, and channels it into a National Mobility Project, a long-term investment in the country’s infrastructure. (“A National Mobility Project”, October 31, 2008)

Thomas Friedman of the NYT:  Look in the mirror: G.M. is us.  That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. (“Time to Reboot America”, December 23, 2008)

Brooks and Friedman wrote on the eve of the new Administration and the writing of a stimulus bill by Congress.  Some small part of the “recovery” package  signed by the president was in the spirit of rebooting, as Friedman suggested, but it was too little.  The Obama Administration talked in vision terms but didn’t press for vision-scale action by Congress.

At this point–nearly a year into Democratic control of Washington and millions of  job losses later–an infrastructure policy is being talked about only in oblique terms, as “Stimulus II” or, by those who are fearful of  the spender label, the non-stimulus stimulus.  And as helpful as that may be for purposes of creating some jobs  it doesn’t substitute for an infrastructure policy.

So shall we primly, safely wait for Federal accounts to come into balance, saying we can’t afford it, while developing and developed nations on other continents propel themselves into economic vitality with steel, wind turbines, and fiber optics?  Consider what can be accomplished by putting money–yes, borrowed money–into real, decades-lasting, efficiency-producing, capacity-building, economy-stimulating, pride-inducing public works and critical infrastructure.

For all their faults the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s strengthened our nation in lasting public works, a strong sense of conservation, and nation-building spirit.  As if to prod us into action some of the glorious thirties era infrastructure that has not been well maintained is visibly deteriorating.

Bob Herbert: Consider transportation. As Brookings tells us, “Other nations around the globe have continued to act on the calculus that state-of-the art transportation infrastructure — the connective tissue of a nation — is critical to moving goods, ideas and workers quickly and efficiently. In the United States, however, we seem to have forgotten.”

Pbea


A Million Reasons

In Leadership, Surface Transportation Policy on September 21, 2009 at 12:26 pm

TollBanana

“Funding is the key,” said former DOT Secretary Norman Mineta.  He should know.

Mineta spoke to an estimable eighty invited to UVA’s Miller Center of Public Affairs to discuss how significant reform in surface transportation policy might be achieved.  He told them that funding is the prerequisite for the kind of major investment measure that all agreed is needed.

Noting the particular challenge, Mineta recalled how he  brought to the Bush (43) White House a proposal to add two cents to the Federal fuel tax.  The intent was to elevate road and transit program funding to level closer to actual system need.  The Commander-in-Chief said no.

Pop Quiz:

  1. On what bill did George W. Bush first exercise his power of the veto?  (Softball.)
  2. Aside from a $8 Bn game-changing plan to jump-start high-speed passenger rail, which president ruled out any immediate action on a major transportation infrastructure program because he (that’s a hint) was not inclined toward a tax hike or other revenue measure? (But why just pick on presidents?)
  3. Is there a snowball’s chance in Haiti that Congress will pass the next full-fledged TEA bill anytime soon?

(Answers: SAFETEA-LU, Obama, Not likely.)

It’s not a stretch to suggest that it may take years for official Washington to approve a costly multi-year surface transportation bill.  Certainly one that includes substantial reform  (such as sustainable transportation and livable communities), new attention to freight gateways and corridors, and overall higher levels of capital investment in our declining public works.  Hundreds of billions are needed over and above what is required to maintain what we already have.  And a declining highway trust fund makes even maintaining the status quo a pressing challenge.

Josh Vorhees of Energy & Environment News wrote a good story carried by the NYT.  The conferees at UVA know the timidity of the Electeds when it comes to approving new revenue increments to support this or that.  When it comes to the partisan battlefield there is no distinguishing a user fee from a tax.

Some time ago, when a toll increase was being contemplated by staff of  a public authority, the subject was referred to as “The Banana. ”  The T-word was not uttered in internal discussions–lest others outside the agency get wind of it before the numbers were fully crunched and the rationale fully developed.  “The Banana” was a calculated, albeit humorous, way to manage in the hyper-sensitive political world.

A some point–much sooner than later–the million reasons why a tax payer or system user should not be charged must be faced by our Electeds.  At some point the fact will sink in that America’s competitiveness is declining as other nations  are  using this lousy global recession as reason to engage in major infrastructure improvements.

Mort Downey recounted last week at a freight-related event how over the years Washington has managed to extend or raise the vehicle fuel tax even when the economy was in distress.  Somehow we survived.   Pbea

Website: America’s Marine Highways

In Websites on July 20, 2009 at 2:30 am

AMH Website Wayne McCormick’s website–America’s Marine Highways–is devoted to the subject and points you to stories, opinion, legislative and business developments and much more. It’s still a young site but is filling out with good information. It is distinguished from other sites on this subject that are sponsored, in whole or in part, by Federal government.  The AMH website is able to offer a frequently updated slate on current events, the views of others, a wide variety of articles, and other newsy pieces that an enthusiast considers worth posting.  He welcomes ideas as to new content.  The AMH website deserves frequent visits.

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