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ASCE Offers Suggestions for Economic Stimulus Plan

February 2009 Volume 34, Number 2

For decades, ASCE has attempted to turn the attention of the nation’s leaders to the parlous state of the country’s infrastructure. To address the current economic crisis, President Obama has made rebuilding infrastructure part of the economic stimulus package that is being developed by Congress in an effort to combat unemployment and encourage economic growth. In his inaugural speech, the new president declared that “the state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act—not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.” As a strong supporter of the president’s plan, the Society has prepared a document entitled “Principles for Infrastructure Stimulus Investment” and presented it to Obama’s transition team as well as to congressional leaders.

The principles were developed by ASCE staff members and by the roughly 80 participants at the Summit on Guiding Principles for Critical Infrastructure, which was held in Virginia in early December. (See “Conference Seeks to Develop Infrastructure Guidelines,” ASCE News, January 2009). The document “Principles for Infrastructure Stimulus Investment” describes the president’s economic plan as “an important step to bolstering our nation’s economic stability.” It also states that engineering and construction projects carried out as part of the stimulus plan must “create and sustain employment increases”; “provide long-term benefits to the public”; take into account the “long-term maintenance and upkeep needs of all infrastructure projects, both existing and new”; and “ensure accountability and transparency” by means of “an auditing program . . . to review the program and measure desired outcomes.”

The document recommends that the projects be prioritized and selected on the basis of “measurable improvements” to the public’s safety, health, and quality of life. The projects should also provide significant economic benefits and should be designed and constructed “in a sustainable and cost-effective manner.” They should also, according to the document, “have a significant environmental benefit such as area restoration, improved air quality through reduced congestion, and better watershed management through eliminating vulnerabilities in a system.”

In an accompanying letter addressed to Obama, D. Wayne Klotz, P.E., D.WRE, F.ASCE, the Society’s president, expressed the Society’s support of the economic stimulus plan but cautioned that any stimulus package should “supplement, rather than replace, long-term solutions such as regular appropriations and scheduled reauthorizations that will ultimately restore America’s world-class infrastructure.” He urged the president as well as members of Congress to adopt the Society’s principles in developing legislation for the stimulus plan.

Recognizing the financial plight of many states, Klotz wrote that “for purposes of the economic stimulus package, ASCE supports temporarily waiving state and local matching fund requirements.” Nevertheless, he urged Congress to include a mechanism in the legislation that “ensures that federal funds are used to supplement, not supplant, already approved state and local infrastructure funding.”

The Obama administration is aware of the potential benefits of measures to revitalize the nation’s infrastructure. A report released on January 10 entitled The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, written by Christina Romer, Ph.D., the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, and Jared Bernstein, Ph.D., the chief economic adviser to Vice President Biden, described how the effort to improve the nation’s infrastructure would create jobs. “Certain industries, such as construction and manufacturing, are likely to experience particularly strong job growth under a recovery package that includes an emphasis on infrastructure, energy, and school repair,” it states. The report projects that by the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2010 the plan could create 377,000 jobs related to the nation’s infrastructure. (The authors concede that there is a substantial margin of error in the data because the plan is in the early stages of development.)

“By adopting and implementing the ASCE principles, Congress can assure the American people that the funds appropriated for infrastructure investment will produce desirable results such as: reducing congestion and delays on America’s roadways; enhancing public transit systems; updating the nation’s aviation system; and replacing leaking water pipes,” Klotz continued in his letter to Obama. In a blog entry dated January 5, Klotz exhorted ASCE members to seize the opportunity to discuss the economic stimulus plan with their local leaders in conjunction with the release by ASCE of the 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. “Many of us lament the lack of investment in infrastructure over the last 25 years. We should take this opportunity and do everything within our power to make sure that [a bill related to the stimulus plan] passes.”

To read ASCE’s “Principles for Infrastructure Stimulus Investment,” visit here. To visit Klotz’s blog, visit http://blogs.asce.org/president2009/.

—Brett Hansen