Monday, December 22, 2008

Investing in the Right Kind of Infrastructure

Instead of handing over billions to corporations and calling that an economic stimulus package, we should be investing in infrastructure. By investing in infrastructure we will actually have something to show for spending our money years down the road.

This post yesterday at Daily Kos discusses what types of infrastructure we should be investing in...

When those infrastructure projects start to come in from the states, the administration should focus on three areas: repair, replace, and remove.

First priority should go to those projects that flat out eliminate the majority of costs associated with a piece of infrastructure. Nothing costs less in the future than a mile of highway that's been removed. Next should come those projects that offer the chance to upgrade existing infrastructure with an alternative whose future upkeep is less costly. This can include tearing out highways and adding more light rail. It should also include replacing older bridges and structures with newer designs that meet safety concerns while requiring less upkeep. Dead last on the list should come any project whose goal is to add more lanes for automobile traffic.

If we spend a hundred billion, employ a million people, and don't get a mile of new highway out of it, we should count ourselves lucky. Our goal should be to come out of this construction with a need for less maintenance in the future, not more.

If we can't find enough highway to tear out, there's another place where we could use some serious infrastructure upgrades: state and national parks. Many of the beautiful lodges and trails in our parks were built by the WPA or CCC in the 1930s, and while those structures are a treasure, they're a treasure now badly in need of some polish. Turn a million people lose on restoring those structure to their original glory. And if we want to add a few rooms here or trails there, that's fine -- so long as we employ the kind of skilled architects and artists that helped make these structures so wonderful in the first place.

Telling state governments to turn over the projects that are ready to go is fine, but if those projects turn out to be new roads, new bridges, and more miles of blacktop, we should hand them right back.

The biggest investment in infrastructure needed in Iowa is expanding broadband access to every corner of the state. That would do far more to help economic development than the Iowa Values fund and help rural communities rebuild their economies.

As for building roads, forget making Highway 20 four lanes across the state. How about building high speed rail service and linking Sioux City with Waterloo, Dubuque, Madison, and even Chicago?

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