Opinion: It’s Infrastructure Decision Time
By John Simourian
Lily Transportation Corp.
This Opinion piece appears in the March 15 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
I’ve just returned from my third trip to China in the past five years and continue to be amazed by — and envious of — the high-growth economy there.
A year ago, China responded to the worldwide economic crisis by announcing it would lay off 40 million workers. Thirty days later, however, China reversed its decision, concerned about the global recession’s effect on its huge export markets, and said it would invest $600 billion in transportation infrastructure to stimulate domestic consumption enough to replace losses in exports.
Driving around Shanghai last month, I saw new eight-lane highways and large suspension bridges, as well as new buildings for the 2010 World Expo, which opens May 1. These projects all were built in the past 12 months.
Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris recently commented, “Infrastructure investment by the Chinese government was rapid and has created huge domestic demand.”
Now, contrast that planning and activity with the pace of decisions and size of programs by the U.S. government.
A year ago, the $787 billion stimulus plan was announced to create jobs and keep the unemployment rate from exceeding 8%. It’s been a terrible disappointment. No new jobs were created because the funds have gone primarily to transfer payments that do nothing for jobs and growth. Unemployment remains high because only $27.5 billion in the stimulus plan was for the construction and repair of bridges and roads, and even that amount is spread over three years.
This colossal failure to concentrate on the unemployment issue as the key to solving our economic crisis is the main reason for the anger in this country and the birth of the Tea Party movement. But Washington doesn’t get it.
To be fair, Washington does know that building bridges and roads will put people back to work and kick-start our economy. In 2008 and early 2009, our federal leaders were briefed by the Department of Transportation, American Society of Civil Engineers, American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials, Ernst & Young and the Urban Land Institute on the urgent need for the United States to invest a minimum of $150 billion to $200 billion per year in our transportation infrastructure in the next five years.
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