Rebuilding our infrastructure

From James A. Liquori, president of Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.:

Since the collapse of the Interstate bridge in Minneapolis last year, many cities and states around the nation have examined the condition of their aging bridges and other transportation infrastructure and found them dangerously deficient, in need of repair or replacement.

Our deteriorating bridges are merely a small part of the huge and largely neglected network of highways, bridges, railways, ports, airports and transit and water systems that are vital to commerce and to keep America competitive in the global marketplace.

Both presidential candidates have spoken frequently about the urgent need to rebuild the nation's failing infrastructure. We can only hope those words are more than lip service.

At Iona College we held a National Conference on Infrastructure needs last February and heard an alarming story about America's crumbling infrastructure from national leaders in government, business, organized labor, and industry.

The dangerous infrastructure decay was the same in virtually every corner of our great country. A study by the American Society of Civil Engineers found that it would cost $9.4 billion a year for 20 years to eliminate all of the deficiencies in the nation's 600,000 bridges.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, there are currently 2,272 structurally deficient bridges in North Carolina alone.

Our national conference at Iona was held to make Americans more aware of the dangerously neglected infrastructure problems facing the United States, the implications that neglect held for the future, and the benefits that can be derived from a sustained, national, comprehensive infrastructure rebuilding program.

The co-sponsor of our conference, Ron DeFeo, chairman and CEO of the Terex Corp.of Westport, said that “investing in infrastructure will produce prosperity, save lives with safer roadways, and put people to work.” DeFeo said that it is estimated that every $1 billion spent on public works creates more than 40,000 jobs.

Another conferee, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said that infrastructure repair was an issue on which disparate groups like the AFL-CIO, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce could agree upon and work together to develop a long-range, sustainable national program

Although a number of infrastructure building proposals have been suggested, Sweeney singled out the National Infrastructure Bank Act, introduced in the Senate last year by Sens. Chris Dodd (D-CN) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) as one that could be an effective model for getting public and private capital to jointly finance major infrastructure projects.

The conference's keynote speaker, Susan Eisenhower, said that among her grandfather Dwight David Eisenhower's greatest achievements was creation during his presidency of the Interstate Highway System, an infrastructure investment that “changed the face of America and ensured prosperity for parts of the country that, until then, had been too far off the beaten path.

We at Iona College hope to sponsor another national conference on the infrastructure issue next year, perhaps in Washington, D.C. focused on proposing a specific plan for a long-range program to fund our critical national infrastructure needs.