OK, folks. It's election week, and I know a lot of us are ready for it to be over. So let's talk about something that doesn't hinge on election results. How about our long-term infrastructure preparedness?
While politicos spent the weekend knocking on the last voter doors and rolling out their final robocalls before the election, New York and New Jersey were trying to clean up the debris from Hurricane Sandy. New York's Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for big infrastructure protections against future storms--sea walls and levees that aren't there now. Bloomberg, a political independent, also endorsed President Obama for a second term, largely because the president believes that climate change "is an urgent problem that threatens our planet." Obama's challenger, Gov. Mitt Romney does not, Bloomberg said.
From an infrastructure perspective, the bottom line from this New York political duo is this: It's time to start thinking in terms of decades rather than one- and two-year stopgaps. It's also time to think about how a protective infrastructure would look in the wake of increasingly harsh weather around the globe. It's probably not a good idea to cheap out on these protections if super-storms like Sandy are going to become more common.
Every time there is a natural disaster--a collapsed bridge, a broken levee, a flooded subway system--a public utility that has gone largely unnoticed all of a sudden is emphasized in stark relief. Yet even these dramatic illustrations of public dependence on utilities have not translated into the investments that Bloomberg and Cuomo are looking for. Maybe it's because road and power-line maintenance isn't a fun way to spend money. Maybe it's because hurricane and tornado calamities are isolated in individual communities, and that allows the rest of us to forget about them. Maybe the problems are just too overwhelming.
What does a robust long-term infrastructure system look like? How much does it cost? Where are we now in relation to such a thing? How do we get where we need to go? What level of urgency should we assume when talking about infrastructure? How do natural disasters play into the debate? Whose leadership is most important in building solid infrastructure protections? Is it a state responsibility or a federal one? Does political rhetoric hurt or help the conversation? If so, how?