Symposium 2011: President Obama has suggested a new infrastructure stimulus as part of his jobs plan to help get the economy going. Should transportation continue to be a primary responsibility of the federal government, or should we devolve transportation spending to the states?

Sydney:  I’m not entirely sure that the infrastructure stimulus was all that effective the first time. So there doesn’t seem to be a lot of sense in trying again. It seems to be a good idea to transfer transportation funding to the States as this would help the Federal Government save money. Maybe a better idea would be to privatize large transportation projects and perhaps provide only modest financial incentives to the private companies who take on these projects. This could be done by either the Federal Government or the States depending on the type of infrastructure and whose responsibility it was.

 

The key of any stimulus is to get people to spend. Infrastructure projects may provide jobs, but if the people who get these jobs use their money to pay back debt rather than spend it on consumer items then it won’t work.

 

RMC:  I think the federal highway system should most definitely stay under the control of the federal government and that they should maintain the federal highways.  Otherwise, what you’ll see is that the states may neglect important thoroughfares.  Look at I-95 for example.  It runs all the way down the east coast.  If each state where solely responsible, you’d have a real mess.  One state may take care of the road, if they have the money, and another state that doesn’t have enough money will neglect it, so you’ll have a travel nightmare.  In South Carolina our state infrastructure bank doesn’t have the money for all the projects we need as it is, so adding more isn’t going to help.

 

The federal gasoline tax pays for the road infrastructure projects, or at least helps pay for them at the federal level.  I guess if we were to devolve infrastructure to the states then each state would have to get whatever is collected from the gasoline taxes in their state.  We can’t pawn off infrastructure projects to cash strapped states and let the federal government keep the proceeds from the gas tax.  If that were the case, then perhaps there is some merit to devolution.

 

Infrastructure stimulus is a good job creator for people in the construction industry.  Unfortunately, if you’re an unemployed retail worker, here in Orlando, you’re probably not going to go work on a road project in Alabama or New York.  Nor would you work on the proposed high speed rail project here in central Florida.  You wouldn’t have the skill set to do that.  So, yes, infrastructure is a good job creator, but it’s not a cure all for our economic and jobless woes.

 

Michigan:  I think we need to maintain our present infrastructure and leave it in the hands of the federal government.  Any new roads that the states feel they need can be funded by the state and set up as toll roads to absorb the cost.  I feel it would be more useful to spend money and manpower building new electric and nuclear plans and develop our own oil and gas resources.

 

Cartwright:  I don’t think devolution of transportation spending to the states is a good idea unless there is a way to guarantee that the funds from the gasoline taxes will go to road projects and maintenance.  We don’t want that money being diverted to fill state budget gaps.  I guess this sounds contradictory to my earlier statements that eliminate certain departments.  I envision the Department of Transportation falling under either Defense or Homeland Security, so it would still fall under the purview of the federal government.

 

I think infrastructure projects are a great idea.  I don’t think it’s going to solve our economic woes, however.  But, we do need to have some massive infrastructure projects, and I don’t think that should be limited to roads.  We need to be looking at infrastructure in terms of rail, power grids, hydroelectric power generation, wind farms, bridges, nuclear facilities, ports, oil development, and research facilities.

 

Let’s look at what the Chinese are doing in terms of infrastructure.  They are spending billions of dollars on massive projects like those I just mentioned.  They spent $900 million on the Tianhuangping hydroelectric project.  They’re spending $6.3 billion on the Xiangjiaba Hydropower project, $5 billion on the Shanghai-Hangzhou maglev railway, $7 billion on the Xiludou Dam, $14 billion on the Harbin-Dalian Highspeed Railway, $18 billion on the Jiuquan wind farm, $33 billion on the Beijing Shanghai Highspeed Railway, and $44 billion on building highways to connect China, India, Southeast Asia, and Europe.  Look at what these projects mean and look at what we’re doing here in America.  We’re falling way behind.

 

I don’t know if you all are familiar with the I-73 project.  This is a highway project that would go from Michigan to South Carolina.  They’ve been talking about this for decades, and it still isn’t done.  When it comes to road, we need to get on it.  To hell with the environmentalists; just build the damn roads.  We need a lot of road projects to make the flow of goods and people a lot easier throughout the entire United States.  Let’s expand I-95, I-10, I-40, and all the major highways.  If they’re six lanes now, let’s make them ten lanes.  Let’s go ahead and start getting ahead of the curve.  Our population is going to continue to grow, creating more strains on the ability to move goods and people easily.

 

Let’s get the road projects going.  Have crews working twenty-four hours a day seven days a week if we have to, but let’s get them done.  It wouldn’t take the Chinese decades to build a road.  And while we’re on transportation, let’s work on expanding our ports.  We’re going to have more and more goods coming into the United States, so let’s get ready for it.

 

While we’re expanding our road systems, let’s go ahead and spend money on a high speed railway that connects east and west and north and south.  Not only would we be able to more efficiently move goods and people but we would alleviate congestion on our roads and in our skies.  It should be a pretty easy concept; have the high speed railway follow the major highways and branch off to other markets as well.  Let’s get the project build quickly.  Let’s not wait years.  Just do it.

 

When it comes to the road and rail projects, let’s work with Canada to facilitate our transportation infrastructures and make it easier for people to get back and forth.

 

Let’s work on some wind farms and hydroelectric power projects and on updating our power grid.  Let’s work on offshore drilling, open up ANWR in Alaska, and build the Keystone Pipeline.

 

We need to get on these infrastructure projects now—not tomorrow, not the next day, not next year, not five years from now.  We’re getting farther and farther behind.  There’s a much larger public good to be served by doing all these projects.  We need to have the courage to just move these projects forward and to hell with the lawsuits and the protests and the years of studies.  It’s embarrassing that the world’s superpower has an antiquated infrastructure system.  Makes you wonder if we really are the world’s superpower.

 

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