Ed Rendell: Rebuild our infrastructure

The U.S. is in danger of becoming a third-rate economic power

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Most schools are out for a summer break after final grades were toted home in students' backpacks throughout the country. Around the same time, America got its infrastructure report card -- and the results aren't good.

Imagine sitting around the kitchen table reviewing Junior's grades. His last report card shows a cumulative average of D. As a family, parent, teacher or community, wouldn't we do all we could to try to help this student improve? Of course we would.

It's the same with the state of the country's infrastructure. Consider some of these "grades," as reported in the American Society of Civil Engineers' most recent infrastructure report card: transit, D; energy, D+; dams, D; bridges, C; aviation, D; drinking water, D-; hazardous waste, D; schools, D; and wastewater, D-.

I'd say this defines our infrastructure situation as one in crisis.

The record is clear. We've received failing marks. How can this be possible? And, given all the other challenges we face as nation, why should we care?

Ask yourself these questions: How much time do you waste stuck in traffic congestion? And how secure are you driving across one out of every four of America's structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges? What about you and your family consuming D-grade water? Would you purchase and eat D-grade food?

Each day, our nation's old and leaky pipes discharge more than 7 billion gallons of clean drinking water into the ground, and the same old sewer systems release billions of gallons of untreated wastewater into U.S. surface water each year.

Infrastructure surely is not the sexiest word in the English language, nor does it command the attention of the media or the average person on a daily basis. That is, until a bridge collapses, the water is contaminated, a levee breaks or a school is shuttered in your own backyard.

We must focus on infrastructure investment before it's too late, and in doing so, we can create thousands upon thousands of jobs that will help revive our economy and stimulate American manufacturing, as well.

Despite the political polarization across the nation, we in elected office must show the courage and fortitude to address the challenges that face our people. Infrastructure is not, and should never become, a partisan issue.

That's why I joined Building America's Future -- a bipartisan national coalition of elected officials dedicated to infrastructure investment and reforms. Co-chaired by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and me, the coalition firmly believes that ignoring unmet infrastructure needs runs the risk of endangering public safety and allowing the United States to become a third-rate economic power.

So what do we do?

One effective vehicle of change is a National Infrastructure Bank to fund some of the nation's highest priorities. Such a bank would leverage federal dollars in the form of grants and loans with private sector investments to fund major projects of regional and national significance.

Not only would it provide greatly needed investment to cash-strapped cities and states, it also would provide the transparency and accountability needed to prevent waste and "Bridge to Nowhere"-type projects. It would select projects based on merit and cost-benefit-analyses.

Presidents Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Eisenhower understood the potential of investing in great projects like the Louisiana Purchase, the transcontinental railroad, rural electrification and the national highway system. Each public investment generated vast returns in safety and quality of life, as well helping to create thousands of jobs and economic growth.

It's time for that same sort of vision and leadership. Congress should establish a National Infrastructure Bank to invest in and save the foundation of our country and build for the next generation.

Ed Rendell is the governor of Pennsylvania.


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