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The HIll: We Need Long Term Strategy for Investment in our Infrastructure

By Former Gov. Ed. Rendell (D-Pa.), co-chair, Buidling America's Future

09/18/12

Imagine what would happen if someone flipped a switch, shutting off power to the entire world. That’s the premise of a new television series called Revolution. The plot centers on life 15 years after the world has been brought to a screeching halt, literally returned to the Dark Ages, after a massive blackout. Planes fall from the sky, hospitals shut down, communication is primitive and inefficient. It is a post-apocalyptic world: no power, no electricity, no functional infrastructure - just utter darkness and chaos.

Far fetched? Not really. In July, daily life stopped dead in its tracks for 670 million people, not once but twice, when 10% of the world’s population lost all power, spreading over almost 2000 miles. India was returned to a pre-industrial country in a matter of seconds.

But you don’t have to go halfway around the world to experience that kind of social and economic trauma. In 2003, nearly 55 million Americans were without power for almost 48 hours in vast areas of the Northeast and Midwest. The financial losses from two days “off the grid” were in the billions of dollars.

The cause of the 2003 blackout: simple human error, and not so simple equipment failures. Even with new regulatory controls enacted after the crisis, statistics indicate that a blackout of the same proportions will occur approximately every 25 years. Even today, reports by the American Society of Civil Engineers show that service interruptions and capacity limitations will cost American households and businesses a combined $197 billion in avoidable costs by the year 2020. Unless we want to end up where we began again and again, the United States needs a long-term strategy to ensure the reliability of the nation’s power grid.

But even that will only meet basic needs. We also need a long-term strategy that invests in our infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and transit systems. Our global competitors understand this, and have been directing billions of dollars into 21st century transportation networks that have enhanced their own economic standing. The numbers tell the story. In 2005, the World Economic Forum ranked America’s infrastructure number 1 in economic competitiveness. Today our rank has fallen to number 16.

So what can we do to turn things around?

First and foremost, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can learn from and use the progress that has been made by other countries. We can leverage public resources, with private sector dollars to maximize investment in projects, which facilitate the mobility and exchange of goods and services, the backbone of economic growth.

Second, we must formulate a national transportation policy, which sets clear criteria for achieving the economic objectives necessary to growth and prosperity, so sorely needed in our country today. Two decades into the 21st century, Americans deserve better than outdated transportation systems and unreliable electric grids. Washington must improve the way it works with regional, state, and local leadership embracing private sector solutions when feasible.

What we’re talking about is the main frame of a modern society; the foundation of a nation’s health, security, and prosperity. We must get serious about maintaining and modernizing our electric grid, as well as our roads, rails and runways. It is only with that kind of vigilance that we can avoid the consequences of a world, literally thrown back to the Dark Ages - the brutal primitive world of Revolution. What we do or fail to do now is not about the past, it is about our future.

Rendell is co-chair of Building America's Future - a national and bipartisan coalition dedicated to smart infrastructure investment and reform.

Source - The HIll