As a college student in the early 1970s, I marveled as the nation's interstate highway system was being completed, less than 20 years after President Eisenhower kicked off the most ambitious highway construction project in history.
In those days, my holiday and summer vacation drives to and from college in Washington, D.C. from my hometown in New Orleans were marked by detours on and off the then-new highways onto older federal highways, as different states were at various stages of completing the national network.
In contrast, I have shared the same concerns about the alarming condition of many of our key highways, bridges, and tunnels, as many Americans have. The current recession, and the resulting Barack Obama stimulus plan, is a welcomed impetus to address a problem that was going from bad to worse.
The new administration sees the same New Deal stimulus opportunity in infrastructure that FDR saw in the 1930s. We will know more details by the time you read this, but at the first of the year, the kick-start to infrastructure spending was the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' (AASHTO) compilation of 5280 “ready-to-go” projects worth an aggregate of $65.91 billion.
A group that represents transit agencies proposed about $32 billion in subway, light rail, and bus projects. The Airports Council International says there are about $1 billion in runway and other airport improvements that are ready to go. The States for Passenger Rail Coalition has a list of $1.4 billion in track upgrades and rail station improvements.
Also in the short term, the National Governors Association (NGA) is simultaneously pushing a wish list of $136 billion in jobs-producing public works projects—mostly road and bridge repairs—that have already won regulatory approval and just need funding.
Billions and trillions
These projects are just part of a total stimulus plan Congress will push through before the end of January. The emerging plan could be valued at $675 billion to $775 billion over two years, although it's been reported that lawmakers' add-ons could raise it to $850 billion. Obama's advisers say an $850 billion plan could generate about 3.2 million jobs by the first quarter of 2011.
But some economists favor an even bigger stimulus of up to $1.3 trillion. Like the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, the plan will likely result in much more by the end of 2009. Many experts believe the total package could easily reach the $1 trillion mark if unemployment keeps climbing in 2009 and pressure mounts on the administration to do more.
Make no mistake about it, beyond the NGA and AASHTO, Congressional leaders have been lobbied hard by the United States Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, National Association of Counties, Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations, National Association of Regional Councils, National Association of Development Organizations, American Planning Association, and the American Public Works Association.
There is no doubt Congress will pass a bill early in the year, marking 2009 as the beginning of our industry's recovery.