Monday, August 29, 2011

Make-Do Resignation?

The Executive Summary to Falling Apart and Falling Behind (by Building America's Future Educational Fund) gets directly at an issue that most civil engineers are facing.  The issue is a growing sense that our country's can-do spirit in terms of our national infrastructure is being replaced with a make-do resignation.  Consider the following from Falling Apart and Falling Behind - -

"Our infrastructure - and the good policy making that built it - is a key reason America became an economic superpower.  But many of the great decisions which put us on that trajectory are now a half-century old.  In the last decade, our global economic competitors had led the way in planning and building the transportation networks of the 21st century.  Countries around the world have not only started spending more than the United States does today, but they make those financial commitments - of both public and private dollars - on the basis of 21st-century strategies that will equip them to make commanding strides in economic growth over the next 20-25 years.

Unless we make significant changes in our course and direction, the foreign competition will pass us by, and a real opportunity to restore America's economic strength will be lost.  The American people deserve better."

Our swaggering engineering optimism is being replaced with something more subdued - - a reorganization of parameters and constraints build around our declining political will and wherewithal.  Just in terms of transportation woes - - between 2005 and 2010, the country plummeted from No. 1 to No. 15 in the world in terms of the economic competitiveness of our infrastructure.  The list is as follows:
  1. Hong Kong
  2. Germany
  3. United Arab Emirates
  4. France
  5. Singapore
  6. Switzerland
  7. Netherlands
  8. United Kingdom
  9. Canada
  10. Sweden
  11. Japan
  12. Iceland
  13. Denmark
  14. Spain
  15. United States
This doesn't even reflect the fact that the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) are rising fast as economic powers - - and their considerable investment in infrastructure.  We are behind one of the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain).  Being behind bankrupt Spain says something.

From the cornfields of Iowa to the boulders of New Hampshire, we have yet to hear any discussion on our declining infrastructure (the only national voice on the need for infrastructure investment is Tom Friedman of the New York Times).  Engineers have yet to see a national strategic vision and plan.  We have not seen a plan that recognizes the fact that we are losing ground to our global competitors.  This is a lack of national leadership with no connection to the global realities and our current 10% unemployment rate - - every $1 billion in infrastructure investment creates more than 25,000 jobs at construction sites and factories producing needed raw materials.

With the world experiencing so much change, will America get its act together in the context of our declining infrastructure?  Are we doomed to life in the slow lane on the highway of globalization?  Fixing our infrastructure problems will be neither easy nor cheap.  Are our current political leaders capable of building on the ideas of innovative planning focused on improving the return on infrastructure spending and giving a boost to public-private partnerships?

Or will the theme of the next American Society of Civil Engineers national conference be titled "Engineering for the 21st Century: Make-Do Resignation"?

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