America’s Critical Infrastructure is a Non-Partisan Issue

02/06/2008 |

Elected officials from across the political spectrum recognize the need to secure federal funding for rebuilding infrastructure and enhancing public safety

By Barbara A. Nadel, FAIA


While media pundits fill airtime chattering about who’s up and who’s down in the polls, the American public is hungry for discussion of policy issues about the future of the country.

Many national reports indicate that Americans are concerned about the economy, the war in Iraq, and access to affordable healthcare. But, by looking at what makes America work, what keeps the economy strong, what contributes to local public safety and national security, and how to put Americans back to work in regions where jobs have gone overseas or been eliminated raises another issue that can no longer be overlooked: rebuilding the nation’s critical infrastructure as a federal public policy.

In January 2008, New York’s Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (Independent), Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell (Democrat), and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (Republican) formed a non-partisan coalition, “Building America’s Future,” designed to move America forward and make infrastructure investment and funding a national priority. They envision that the coalition will be joined by state and local elected officials from across the United States, and will become a repository of best practices on infrastructure investment issues. With funding from the Rockefeller Foundation for staffing and resources, the coalition plans to work with the national platform committees of both political parties, Democrats and Republicans, to ensure that the next president understands the enormity of the infrastructure crisis and commits to increasing federal funding for infrastructure.

In my September 2007 column, “Public Safety, National Security: America’s 21st-Century Infrastructure Agenda,” I challenged the next president, and urged the nation’s presidential candidates, to focus on rebuilding America’s infrastructure and provided a 10-point 21st Century Infrastructure Agenda. It is encouraging to see that three elected leaders with national stature can rise above party politics and collaborate on this significant issue that is important to all Americans.

Routine Maintenance and Repairs are Often the First Items Eliminated
Recent headlines over the last few years have shown failed levees in New Orleans, air-traffic congestion in the Northeast that cripples much of the United States, the deadly bridge collapse in Minnesota, widespread regional electrical blackouts, and an underground steam pipe eruption in New York. Over the past 20 years, state and local governments have had to bear more of the costs of infrastructure repair, as the federal government slashed needed spending. Routine maintenance and repairs are often delayed and eliminated due to budget cuts and shortfalls, endangering public safety. The prospect of more preventable infrastructural failures and associated fatalities is too high a price for Americans to pay or even consider.

But, critical national infrastructure is about more than roads and bridges. National infrastructure encompasses the basic facilities that communities, cities, governments, and businesses need to survive and thrive. This includes schools, waterlines, wastewater-treatment systems, stormwater management, dams, flood mitigation, hospitals, emergency management and operations centers, law enforcement facilities, energy, aviation, rail lines, ports, communications, cyber networks, and utility systems, both above and below ground. Investing in infrastructure today and planning for contingencies ensures a higher degree of public safety, national security, and economic prosperity tomorrow and for future generations.

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