Funding for infrastructure projects became one of the darlings of many politicians after this financial debacle descended on us. That would be good news not only for the transportation sector, but for the general economy itself.
Infrastructure construction means jobs - lots of them. With unemployment through the roof, what better way to infuse a bunch of dollars back into the economy, and at the same time improve transportation efficiency?
A bright note from several November state elections: The American Road & Transportation Builders Assn. says voters in various states approved more than $71 billion in new revenues for transportation infrastructure work. This, the organization said, illustrates "continued strong public support" for transportation investment.
No one disagrees on the need to fix the infrastructure. Several billion dollars' worth of highway projects and bridge repairs could be started quickly. Construction workers are the largest single unemployed segment of any U.S. industry, so why hold off?
One problem is the parade of people asking for help, after Congress passed the $700 billion rescue plan for the financial community and mortgage business.
The causes of various manufacturers, municipalities, the unemployed, medical care, food programs and the poor are not making this up; they are in trouble. And they see Congress as their potential savior.
But Congress must set funding priorities that will do the most good for the most people - and the economy.
President-elect Obama is a believer in fixing the infrastructure. His campaign included a proposed National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that would get $60 billion in federal money over 10 years. His program would include funding for high-speed rail and expanded domestic rail freight capacity, as well as highways and bridges.
That, presumably, is down the road; perhaps it will be part of next year's transportation reauthorization legislation. Meantime, what about a fast infrastructure stimulus package?
We like that Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chair, wants to fund only projects that can be started quickly. That, we hope, would exclude frivolous pork-barrel earmark projects such as those attached to recent legislation.
It might help that members of Congress don't have Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Ak.), to kick them around any more. The reputed "king of pork," who diverted billions of federal dollars to Alaska over the years, was not re-elected.
In considering any fast stimulus package, Congress must be very careful that the projects it is funding are legitimate, carefully targeted and contribute to the overall strategic goal of improving infrastructure. Doing that will help the general economy, too.
And wouldn't it be nice if, when it tackles reauthorization next year, Congress followed those same ground rules?
E-mail Doug Condra at [email protected], or write P.O. Box W, Newport Beach, CA 92658.