Last week, the Organization for International Investment launched an infrastructure campaign touting the economic benefits of strengthening America's infrastructure and warning subtly that the lack of attention to airports, bridges, and electrical grids is bordering on a crisis that will change how global companies view the United States.
Is anyone listening? Thus far, OFII's message that infrastructure improvements can't wait appears to be resonating only with those who are predisposed to believe it: Democrats, the White House, and the transportation and engineering communities. That's because maintaining roads and bridges isn't nearly as sexy as building them. "It's like having the roof leaking and buying a hot tub.... There's a lot of pressure on [transportation agencies] to build new facilities, and that comes at the expense of keeping up what you've got," said Roger Millar, Smart Growth America's director of Land Use and Transportation Policy. Smart Growth America will release a study next month showing that filling the pothole is perhaps more important than building a new road. Acting now saves money later.
How can infrastructure advocates overcome the political reality that fixing a leaky roof, or a pothole, is just plain boring? Does the public need to weigh in? Or can the discussions be had among just elected officials and the transportation community? Do officials at the federal and state transportation departments need to be more up front about where their allotted transportation money is going if they are to justify the need for more? Do tight budgets help or hurt the conversation?