Stimulus Must Go Towards Improving Infrastructure

The economic recovery legislation currently being debated is an encouraging sign that Washington has made the connection that many of us in the infrastructure business made a long time ago: infrastructure investment can serve as an economic catalyst AND address major shortfalls in our crumbling infrastructure.

Without debate, America’s infrastructure is in dire need of proper, sustained attention, as evidenced by the grade of “D” and the needed five-year investment of $2.2 trillion noted in the 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, just released last week by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). While we need to be realistic that making an investment such as the one proposed in the stimulus package doesn’t mean that we get to check off the infrastructure renewal box, if made appropriately, those investments will serve as a good down payment on the long-term infrastructure needs of our country.

ASCE believes that these investments should be made only with a well-defined, transparent system of accountability for spending Americans’ money the responsible way. That’s why we developed a set of ‘Principles for Infrastructure Stimulus Investment’ designed to help guide Congress and the Obama administration when allocating economic stimulus funding.

We believe that all projects supported by an economic stimulus investment must meet such fundamental criteria as: creating and sustaining employment increases; providing long-term benefits to the public (such as congestion relief); and considering long-term maintenance and upkeep needs of all infrastructure projects. Also, as the investments are made, proper attention must be paid to the prioritization and selection of projects to ensure that these criteria are met. Project selection decisions should be guided by such principles as: delivery of measurable improvements in public health, safety and quality of life; providing substantial, broad-based economic benefit; being designed and built in a sustainable and cost-effective manner, and having a significant environmental benefit, such as better watershed management through eliminating vulnerabilities in a system.

The nation’s energy, aviation, drinking water and other infrastructure systems—the critical foundations that support Americans’ quality of life and the health of the nation’s economy—are in desperate need of true leadership and vision. Passing the economic recovery legislation and investing the American people’s money wisely would be a promising first step toward recovery.

Learn more about ASCE’s position on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on our blog, Our Failing Infrastructure.