Tech & Science

Schwarzenegger: A Call to Invest in Infrastructure

America has failed to invest in its infrastructure for the past 50 years, and the bill is coming due. The situation is reminiscent of the ancient Roman Empire, which grew strong because of its advanced aqueduct system, but which fell into decline when that feat of engineering tumbled into disrepair. We're in danger of repeating that history, but it's not too late to fix the problem if we take decisive action now.

That's why Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and I formed Building America's Future earlier this year. Long before any of us realized we were in a recession, the three of us—a Republican, Democrat and an Independent—understood that America needs a large-scale, immediate investment in our nation's roads, schools, parks, hospitals, waterways, ports and more. We are extremely pleased to have heard President-elect Barack Obama pledge to do just that as part of his economic recovery plan. In fact, it's exactly what I talked to President-elect Obama about when I joined the nation's other governors in Philadelphia earlier this month.

Our infrastructure is more than just a quality-of-life issue. It is an economic issue. Americans waste billions of dollars while semi-trucks carry goods on gridlocked roads and lose millions of gallons of water in leaky old pipes. We lose time and dollars because our ports are not computerized or modern enough to meet today's demands. Our businesses lose real dollars because our buildings are not energy efficient. This kind of waste raises the costs of everything from clothing to cars to raw carrots. It's clear that the faster we can move people and goods, the stronger our economy is. In short, we are a dinosaur economy trying to compete in a space-age global environment.

We live in the country that first landed a man on the moon, that is responsible for the mass-produced automobile and that created the Internet. So why do we sit bumper to bumper on the freeway for two or three hours in order to get home from work during rush hour?

We're a society where e-mail, handheld devices, videoconferencing and thousands of satellites in orbit keep us connected. So why do Americans stand in long security lines at the airport, in our socks, just to sit in the terminal for hours as our flights get delayed because of overcrowded airport runways?

None of this makes sense in America. It doesn't make sense that in the greatest country on Earth we still rely on trains that go the same speed as they did 100 years ago, so our shipping times and commutes are longer than other countries. It doesn't make sense that we drive across unsafe bridges like the one that collapsed in Minnesota and live behind inadequate levees like those that failed in New Orleans.

If we were to come up with an analogy, I'd compare our situation to running a company. Imagine trying to compete in today's business world of BlackBerrys, e-mail alerts, videoconferences and PowerPoint when all you have is an IBM Selectric typewriter and a single telephone landline. You're going to get beat. And when you think about America's aging infrastructure, we're going to get beat, too—by our competitors China, India, Europe and Brazil. Travel overseas and you see faster commuter trains, better public transportation, double-decker freeways, and more efficient ports. Meanwhile, infrastructure spending as a share of gross domestic product in the United States has dropped 25 percent over the past 20 years. So, government spending is at an all-time high, while investment in our critical infrastructure is at a historic low.

Recession or no recession, our nation desperately needs to update infrastructure that lags behind that of even some developing countries. But it is also true that a recession is the perfect time to put money into long-term investments like massive public-works projects because it creates jobs while pumping up our economy. It's like hitting two homeruns with one swing. FDR knew that when he created the New Deal.

Californians didn't know this in 2006 when they said yes to $42 billion in infrastructure investments. But what has been an added benefit is that the money from those investments is being pumped into our state's economy right now, when it's most needed. For every $1 billion in infrastructure projects, we create 18,000 jobs—and that's a conservative estimate. In 2008 alone in California, we've committed more than $10 billion dollars in infrastructure investment, which will create at least 200,000 jobs over the life of that investment. And when our state unemployment rate has broken 8 percent, that kind of investment has a profound effect.

A massive national infrastructure investment program would give a boost to our economy right now. We have already identified $136 billion in projects across the country that, within 120 days of the new president's administration, would lead to orders from American factories and job offers to American workers. Steel beams would be ordered, as would cement, design employees and more. More than $28 billion of those projects are in California, and that would mean at least 500,000 jobs here, beginning immediately. Time is of the essence, and all infrastructure dollars must produce real results. The members of Building America's Future strongly support a "use it or lose it" requirement to any infrastructure investment to ensure that new funds will be used to put Americans to work immediately and not languish unspent or tied up in red tape.

By following California's lead, the new administration will be improving the quality of life for Americans, enabling us to compete better with our competitors around the globe, and putting shovels in the ground immediately in order to create needed jobs. The nation's governors stand ready to help.