It's good to hear that President-Elect Obama is planning on more fiscal stimulus for the American economy and even better to hear that he plans to stimulate the economy by investing in infrastructure rather than just sending out checks to everyone. We have been ignoring our infrastructure requirements in this country for some time and the results are definitely showing. So, since I know Barack is reading this blog, here are some suggestions:
High Speed Rail Most other industrialized countries are far ahead of us here. Japan has been running their Shinkansen 'bullet trains' since 1964. France began working on their TGV (train à grande vitesse, "high-speed train") in 1976 and the Paris-Lyon line opened in 1981. The phenomenal success of the TGV has encouraged the French government to build six additional lines and other countries in Europe have built their own high speed networks - the Thalys in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, Eurostar linking Britain to France and Belgium as well as systems in Spain, Italy, Sweden and Norway. High-speed rail networks are also being built in China, Taiwan and South Korea.
Here in the United States we don't have true high speed rail. The Acela trains in the Northeast Corridor (Washington-New York-Boston) are called 'high-speed', but track conditions limit them to a top speed of about 125 mph rather than the 200 mph common on true high speed rail.
High speed rail doesn't make sense for much of the United states - the distances are too great to compete with air travel. However, in the northeast corridor, the Chicago area and possibly the Dallas/Fort Worth/Houston area, high speed rail will produce city-to-city travel times that are considerably less than comparable air service while producing less pollution and being less subject to weather delays. As an added bonus, the elimination of dozens of flights between Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston and New York will do much to reduce air travel delays in the country by reducing congestion in the New York City area.
Construction of these lines will generate thousand of jobs and the construction of the trainsets, signalling equipment and other ancillary requirements will generate thousands more. A $50 billion commitment here will get us off to a good start.
School Construction States and local jurisdictions have been falling behind on funding the expansion and replacement of existing school buildings. Many existing school buildings were built in the 1950s and 1960s and need either replacement or substantial renovation. Further, existing schools are being stretched well beyond capacity. Temporary classroom buildings are a common sight throughout the country. Finally, most of our existing schools do not meet today's technological requirements.
The need is tremendous. In 1995, the General Accounting Office estimated the backlog of school construction needs at $112 billion. In 1999, the Education Department estimated the cost at $127 billion. The National Education Association in 2002 came up with a number of $322 billion including technology improvements. There's no doubt the backlog has grown. Right here in my local jurisdiction of 50,000 people there are more than $100 million in unmet needs. The State of New Jersey estimates a $30 billion backlog in that state alone.
An investment of $400 billion will go a long way toward eliminating the backlog. Further it will provide work for thousands of smaller construction firms around the country and for hundreds of thousands of construction workers who are out of work due to the housing slump. As a bonus, the Department of Energy estimates that such a program would reduce energy costs for schools by some $2 billion a year.
Roads and Bridges We haven't done a good job of maintaining our road system let alone pay for the expansion needed to meet current demand. Tens of thousands of bridges are deficient, pavement is crumbling all around the country and huge traffic backups are way of life. A new commitment of $500 billion in Federal money will make a major dent in the backlog here, will stimulate the construction industry all across the country and put many Americans back to work. There's no reason to delay here.
Mass Transit Along with expanded spending on roads and bridges must come renewed investment into mass transit. We need our cities to work efficiently. Like it or not, the vast majority of economic activity in the United States is generated in cities, not in rural areas. An investment of $100 billion now will generate huge dividends in the future in terms of increased efficiency and lower energy use. In addition, of course, we'll see tens of thosuands of new jobs created.
Let's start now. We have no time to lose.
[The photo is of a Eurostar and a Thalys train in the Gare du Nord in Paris]