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?
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
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.
* * * * * * * * * *
“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.”
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.
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.
* * * * * * * * * *
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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