Patrick J. Natale, P.E., F.ASCE
For years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has been a strong advocate for the nation’s infrastructure, and our Report Card for America’s Infrastructure has become a go-to source for legislators, the media and the public relating to all things ‘infrastructure’. Of course, when President Obama announced his intention to include billions of dollars of infrastructure funding as a key part of his economic stimulus plan, that role took on a new significance.
Infrastructure-related investments have the ability to not only provide tangible benefits to the American people, such as reducing congestion and delays on America’s roadways, enhancing public transit systems, reducing blackouts, brownouts and service interruptions, and replacing leaking water pipes, but to also—and perhaps, in our current economic climate, more importantly—create jobs and stimulate the economy (for example, every billion dollars invested in transportation infrastructure supports 35,000 jobs). However, to ensure that the stimulus bill’s infrastructure investment produced the desired results, ASCE knew that careful consideration must be made in the selection of projects to be funded.
That is why we developed the “Principles for Infrastructure Stimulus Investment.” Intended to help guide lawmakers and the Obama administration when allocating economic stimulus funding, the principles focus on steering investment in the right direction by keeping the focus on rehabilitating worn-out infrastructure to increase safety and building new infrastructure to keep the nation competitive in the global economy.
In the principles, we called attention to the need for all projects supported by an economic stimulus investment to meet certain fundamental criteria:
- Projects must create and sustain employment increases;
- Investments must provide long term benefits to the public (such as congestion relief);
- Long term maintenance and upkeep needs of all infrastructure projects – existing and new – must be taken into account;
- To ensure accountability and transparency an auditing program must be established to review the program and measure desired outcomes.
We also highlighted the need for proper attention to be paid to the prioritization and selection of these projects to ensure that the criteria are met:
- The project should deliver measurable improvements in public health, safety and quality of life;
- The project should provide substantial, broad-based economic benefit;
- The project should be designed and built in a sustainable and cost-effective manner, and proper consideration must be given to life-cycle costs;
- The project should have a significant environmental benefit such as area restoration, improved air quality through reduced congestion and better watershed management through eliminating vulnerabilities in a system.
While ASCE firmly believes this type of investment shouldn’t just happen when the economy is in crisis, as the stewards of the nation’s infrastructure, making sure that the public sees the best benefits possible is just part of our commitment to protecting public health, safety and welfare.