State News

Dodd sees hope from infrastructure spending

Posted February 9, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— With banks weighed down by bad debt, long-delayed infrastructure spending offers a way to both generate jobs and rebuild the country's flagging optimism, current and former politicians said Monday.

"We can do big and bold things that can last a long time," said former Gov. Jim Hunt, who created the annual Emerging Issues Forum nearly a quarter-century ago.

bridge Infrastructure focus of issues forum

The two-day forum hosted by North Carolina State University brings together public policy leaders to discuss looming challenges. This year's focus on infrastructure deficiencies came just as Congress and the Obama administration grapple with a federal stimulus package that includes spending to repair highways and bridges, expand railroad and mass transit routes, and update public water systems.

But while President Obama has urged quick spending on public projects to put people to work, less than 8 percent of the Senate's $827 billion package is directed at infrastructure projects. About 11 percent of the House's $820 billion version is for public construction needs.

That boosts the $1.1 trillion in annual U.S. infrastructure spending, but it's a fraction of the estimated $2.2 trillion in needs over the next five years, according to a report last month by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

A quarter of the country's bridges are deficient; in North Carolina a third of the spans aren't up to the demands of their use, ASCE president Wayne Klotz said. Seven billion gallons of clean drinking water just leaks away because water systems in some cities are a century old, he said. The country's average grade was D in 15 areas including aviation, dams and bridges evaluated by the society, Klotz said.

"Our infrastructure system's parts are not serving their intended purposes," Klotz said, and are not adequate for a growing economy.

The risks of failing to maintain public works were captured most dramatically when levees protecting New Orleans failed from insufficient maintenance and investment, flooding the city during Hurricane Katrina, Klotz said.

But the need for improved public works is being recognized at the same time the U.S. economy needs a jolt that business investment or consumer spending seem unable to provide, said U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.

"To do things differently, you need to begin thinking differently," Dodd said, calling the infrastructure spending in the federal stimulus package "downpayments on the long-term needs of our nation."

Infrastructure construction has fueled nearly every successful society in history, Dodd said, from the Roman water-delivery networks still in use today, to the highways the Incas built across South America's Andes mountains, to the Erie Canal that opened trade from the Great Lakes frontier to East Coast ports in 1825. Today, China is building super-modern airports and mag-lev trains to climb into the ranks of leading economies.

But America's big challenge creates opportunities, like an idea for a high-speed, coast-to-coast freight railroad between Long Beach, Calif., and Wilmington that could compete with the Panama Canal as a faster way to move goods from Asia to Europe, Dodd said.

Rural electrification, massive dams and other public projects built during the Depression continue to deliver benefits today, Dodd said. But those efforts also restored confidence "that Americans can push back against any odds," a benefit that would come from new infrastructure projects, Dodd said.

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  • redapace Feb 10, 2009

    Republicans see no hope for positive results from infrastructure spending here at home in the US, but they'll argue till they are blue in the face that spending on infrastructure in Iraq for endless years was/is a good plan.

    Democrats prefer America. Join the team.

  • NCPictures Feb 9, 2009

    I see hope that Chris Dodd will be in jail soon!

  • ifcdirector Feb 9, 2009

    "Hopefully we'll see some green construction out of this, this may be out last chance to avoid global disaster.
    mondo"

    You should be a headliner at Charlie Goodnight's Comedy Club. Seriously.

  • seankelly15 Feb 9, 2009

    None of you know anything more about Dodd then what Billo the Clown and Rush the Drug Dealer Limbaugh have told you.

  • mondo Feb 9, 2009

    hopefully we'll see some green construction out of this, this may be out last chance to avoid global disaster.

  • kopfjaeger2001 Feb 9, 2009

    This walking double standard has the nerve to tell us how to fix a problem that the likes of him and the other democrats and rhinos (republican in name only) crowd got us into? I think he needs to return home to Conn. where he belongs. Hopefully the voters there can fix this problem and get him out of Washington.

  • yankee1 Feb 9, 2009

    This guy should be in prison, not lecturing anyone on anything!! You actually expect the guy who is in the middle of the mess to fix the mess? Are you all insane?????

  • GWALLY Feb 9, 2009

    Chris Dodd......can you say special (banking) lobbiest Democrat. Countrywide "special" loan reciepent...??? ( a little "pay back" for what...?) Oh yea.....another HONEST democrat!!!!

  • original intent Feb 9, 2009

    Wonder if I can get the same mortgage deal that "Countrywide" Chris did!!!

  • Harry Canyon Feb 9, 2009

    If the states haven't been able to keep up on the maintenence of the existing infrastructure what makes him think there will be any difference?