U.S. Infrastructure at Crossroads: Report

With $132 billion having been set aside in the stimulus package for road, highway and various other transit related projects across the United States, the issue of the country’s outdated infrastructure is at the forefront. The Urban Land Institute and Ernst & Young note in a new report that while the funding will certainly boost the job market, what is of even more vital importance is a long-term infrastructure plan for digging the nation out of an economic slump and shoring up the country to be competitive on an international level in the future. “This is about assessing where we are and what we need to do next,” Maureen McAvey (pictured), ULI executive vice president, initiatives group, told CPN. In the report, titled Infrastructure 2009: A Pivot Point, ULI and E&Y conclude the U.S. must now decide to either allow the country’s inadequate infrastructure to dig us deeper into transportation and productivity challenges, or create new networks and land use models to address the anticipated 100 million increase in the population over the next generation. Noting that any viable solution should center on strategic investing, as opposed to just spending, the report outlines a multi-faceted approach to addressing the challenge: create a national strategy; plan holistically with the goal of reducing congestion, carbon footprints and foreign oil dependency, and ensuring sufficient water supply; consolidate government management; and modify funding approaches. “The stimulus was a great down payment,” McAvey said. “We need to have a national strategy, we need to help government at all levels, we need to get more money into the system and we need to think more holistically. The biggest cost in a household is housing, and transportation is second. We can aid people in living more cost-effective lives and more efficient lives through greater mobility and greater accessibility, especially for lower middle-class households, which spend about 50 to 60 percent of their income on transportation and housing.” The report also provides a global perspective on the state of U.S. infrastructure system planning by comparing it to that of other nations. Leading the pack in infrastructure investment is China, which will spend $9 trillion on various projects over the next decade. Next in line is India, which will dole out $2.8 trillion, followed by Russia and Brazil, which will invest a respective $2.2 trillion and 1.1 trillion within a 10-year period. ULI and E&Y surmise that it would behoove U.S. government officials to look at programs in other countries–like the efficient bus rapid transit systems in Bogota, Colombia and Guangzhou, China–for solid examples of infrastructure initiatives that can be adapted for U.S. use. As per the report, time will tell if U.S. government officials will make progressive and aggressive moves toward the modernization of the country’s infrastructure. “This is our third report, so we’ve raised the issue and we’re very optimistic that this is increasingly becoming a major national issue,” McAvey said. “We’re hopeful.”