Infrastructure Beyond Just Transportation

We need an infrastructure program that does more than just repairs our bridges, roads, and highways
By Ed Rendell

It is almost an accepted fact that the American infrastructure is crumbling and desperately needs repair and revitalization. The public and members of the Congress, of both parties, are aware of this and will acknowledge that something must be done. Unfortunately, when you say infrastructure most American’s think mostly of roads, highways, and bridges. Although we need to take significant action to repair and revitalize our transportation network, our infrastructure needs go beyond transportation.

Our water and waste water systems are almost in total disrepair. For example, in Pennsylvania most of our rural systems lose 40 percent of their water before it reaches its destination because the pipes are so old, they leak profusely. During my time as Mayor of Philadelphia, one winter we were faced with 34 straight days below freezing. On the 35th and 36th day, the temperature rocketed to over 60 degrees. The result: 57 significant water mane breaks, producing flooding all over the city. When I asked my Water Department Commission why this happened, he said it was due in part to the unusual weather pattern, but he also explained to me that over 40 percent of the pipes in Philadelphia were laid in the 19th century. It goes without saying that is as unacceptable and dangerous as bridges that have been in operation for over 100 years when the recommended lifespan for any bridge is 40 years.

Our electrical grid needs to be built out significantly if we want to be able to use all sources of energy in every part of our country. Again, Pennsylvania is a good example. We are the highest elevated state east of the Mississippi and that makes us fertile ground for wind energy. But most of our wind farms are in our mountainous areas and the electrical grid is not capable of connecting them with our central urban and suburban residential areas. If we had a totally built out grid, Pennsylvania could be getting almost 1/3 of its electricity from wind and energy in just a few years. Additionally, recent reports have shown that in its current state, our grid would be highly susceptible to terrorist attacks and/or natural disasters. So, as a matter of national security, we desperately need to revitalize the existing grid and expand it dramatically.

The most telling example that demonstrates why we are in the current situation is the condition of our ports. In today’s increasingly global marketplace, the need to move goods quickly and efficiently is paramount. If we are to remain economically competitive, we must have every part of the system that imports and exports our goods as fast and efficient as possible. Sadly, I can report that is simply not the case. Ports are going to become an even more important part of the delivery of goods once the Panama Canal rebuild is completely open. This will allow giant tankers, often referred to as Panamax ships, to go through the canal to the East Coast of North America. What this means is simply that goods from China that were shipped into California and West Coast ports and then railed or trucked to the East, will now go directly to the East Coast. There are twelve major ports on the East Coast and almost tragically, only two are dredged to a depth that will allow them to receive these super ships. As a result, many of these ships are going to bypass U.S. ports and unload in Canada. This means that the U.S. will miss out on what would have been the creation of literally tens and tens of thousands of well-paying longshoreman and truck driver jobs – exactly the type of working class, high paying jobs that can be held without college experience. These are the type of jobs that every politician talks about creating. What makes this situation even harder to swallow is the fact that the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund could have provided additional resources to help expedite the creation of several more East Coast ports equipped for Panamax ships but unfortunately, the money that comes into that fund from fees on shippers has not all been used to refurbish harbors and ports. A significant portion of the fund has been taken to offset the overall budget deficit.

Our infrastructure challenge remains unmet. Talk is plentiful in Washington, but no action has been forthcoming. The Trump Administration has promised a massive infrastructure plan, but no one has seen any of the details or has any idea of the timing. We are losing our competiveness and are endangering our public safety every day we dely. But one thing is abundantly clear, we need an infrastructure program that does more than just repairs our bridges, roads, and highways.

Edward G. Rendell, Pennsylvania’s 45th Governor, began a second term of office on January 16, 2007, following a landslide re-election victory. As Governor, Rendell served as chief executive of the nation’s 6th-most-populous state and oversaw a $27.5 billion budget. He currently serves as co-chair for Building America’s Future Educational Fund (BAF Ed Fund), a bipartisan coalition of elected officials dedicated to bringing about a new era of U.S. investment in infrastructure that enhances our nation’s prosperity and quality of life.