- In this continuing series on America's challenges for
the 21st century, William Dickinson, director of The Biocentric Institute,
exposes underlying realities facing America. You may access much of the
information at: http://www.iapm.org/biocentric.htm .
- As we steam full speed into the 21st century Mr. Dickinson,
what parts of America's infrastructure need attention?
- "Infrastructure is one of those
words -- such as process, paradigm, challenges -- that cause a reader's
eyes to glaze over," said Dickinson. "Too bad, because we are
talking about the underlying foundation on which great civilizations are
built. The Roman Empire flourished for centuries on the framework of paved
roads and cleverly engineered aqueducts. The United States itself grew
to greatness by building a national highway system, transcontinental railroads,
massive dams generating electricity, and breathtaking bridges connecting
people and commerce.
- "But contemporary America has little taste
for "public works" when they compete with private wants. Our
consumer society is built on the here and now. We explain our reluctance
to raise taxes or borrow for vital public purposes as a desire to avoid
leaving our children and grandchildren with massive debt. Gov. Edward
Rendell of Pennsylvania, a Democrat, says that what we're leaving our
posterity instead are "roads so congested nobody's going to get anywhere,
with a light-rail system that's a joke, with airports that are clogged
and increasingly dangerous, with bridges that fall down."
- "This issue will spill over into the new Congress
as well as state legislatures and city councils in 2011. It pits those
who believe any further fiscal stimulus irresponsible against those who
view infrastructure spending as an investment in America's future. Each
$1 billion of infrastructure spending, proponents argue, creates 25,000
jobs that can't be outsourced. Public safety and improved quality of life
also are seen at stake. An editorial in The Wall Street Journal (Oct.
15, 2010) acknowledged that many public works projects would be worth the
money by contributing more to general economic efficiency and growth than
they cost. "But they've been crowded out," the Journal charged,
"by the liberal vote-buying politics of transfer payments and government
union payoffs." Finding common ground won't be easy.
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- "How bad is our nation's infrastructure deficit?
A recent report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated
that it will cost $2.2 trillion over a five-year period to raise the U.S.
infrastructure grade from poor to acceptable. Measure this against the
roughly $100 billion from the 2009 "stimulus" legislation that
had in fact gone toward infrastructure construction projects as of last
fall. Deficit-ridden cities find putting off preventive maintenance and
replacing obsolete equipment as tempting ways to cut budgets. Henry Petroski,
professor of civil engineering and history at Duke University, warns: "Potholes
know no politics.Bridges will corrode and collapse. Pipes will crack and
burst. The physical foundations of our civilization will crumble under
the weight of our complaints about it and our neglect of it. It will happen
so fast it will be impossible to keep up with its repair."
- "The dilemma posed by infrastructure spending
was seen in microcosm last fall when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stopped
work on a new commuter-train tunnel that would run under the Hudson River
into Manhattan. A federally-assisted project that was supposed to cost
$8.7 billion faced a revised cost of $11 billion to $14 billion. "I
can't put taxpayers on a never-ending hook," Christie said. The fact
that the nation can't even afford to build a railroad tunnel under a river
highlighted the failure of government to bring the nation's infrastructure
up to 21st century standards. This includes America's out-of-sight network
of water systems, some of them built by our great-grandparents and now
threatening public health and safety.
- "Meantime, many nations around the world look
to the future by developing critical infrastructure. China plans to spend
$295 billion in the next decade to build a high-speed rail network, totaling
10,000 miles, that will connect its major cities. A World Bank report last
July praised the project, saying it could speed passenger traffic, free
up overloaded freight routes and reduce dependence on autos. One route,
between Shanghai and Beijing, could cut travel time from 10 hours to four
at speeds up to 302 mph. And China will spend $10 billion to connect the
inland cities of Chengdu and Xi'an with a 320-mile railroad that will cut
travel time to two hours from the current 13. Contrast this with the decision
by the newly elected governors of Wisconsin and Ohio to forgo $1.2 billion
in stimulus money for passenger-rail projects in their states. And a
high-speed rail project in California that would connect Los Angeles and
San Francisco has been derided by critics as "a train to nowhere"
because the first leg would connect L.A. with the inland city of Bakersfield.
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* * * * * * *
- "While the United
States is in retreat from big public works projects, on the grounds of
can't-afford-it, other nations with equally bad debt problems have taken
a different course. Britain's prime minister, David Cameron, cut dozens
of social and military programs when he took office last fall. But he
also unveiled a National Infrastructure Plan, a blueprint for spending
$316 billion of public and private money over five years in his country's
railways, power stations, roads, internet access and scientific research.
"The government is keen to point out," said The Economist (Oct.
30, 2010), "that unlike many of its predecessors it has avoided the
temptation to slash capital spending during a downturn, a habit that helps
explain the current ropy state of the national infrastructure."
- "It takes years for taxpayers
to see the returns on new infrastructure investment. If these investments
make an economy more productive, they contribute to economic growth. Many
rising economies Poland, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, India
are building the showcase projects that once transformed the United
States, Western Europe and Japan. India alone plans to spend $1 trillion
on infrastructure between 2012 and 2017, twice the previous five years.
- "What all these efforts
have in common is a look to the future. Population growth will put new
strains on almost every society. World population is projected to grow
from today's 6.9 billion to 9.5 billion by 2050, most of it in poor nations.
Consider this: 40 percent of the world's people now lack access to simple
latrines, let alone sewer systems. U.S. population, now 311 million, may
reach 419 million over the same span, if projections prove accurate. Cities,
where the most of the world's population now lives, can't prosper in this
crowded future unless they are efficient. Today, our crumbling infrastructure
reflects the ascendancy of private desires over common wealth."
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- Contact: William B. Dickinson,firstname.lastname@example.org,
at Biocentric Institute: http://www.iapm.org/biocentric.htm