They came from all over the southeast and New York. They came because they heard our infrastructure was wearing out. They came because they are concerned about preserving our competitive advantage, and the quality of life in the south eastern United States.
They came because they know we have arrived at a time when we must build a new economy, one that is responsive to opportunities in the global marketplace and sufficient to assure employment and a continued high quality of life for Americans.
They were attending one of nine forums being convened around the country to develop a plan to meet infrastructure needs now and in the foreseeable future.
In attendance were, elected officials, national leaders in the transportation industry, media representatives, industry leaders, mayors, academicians, businessmen, DOT representatives, consultants, state agency heads and national thought leaders from around the country.
John Horsley, American Association of State Highway Transportation officials (AASHTO) and Bill Millar, American Public Transit Association (APTA) both recognized the changing way in which we are connected in the Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion (PAM).
I, like many of those attending the forum , have increasingly embraced megaregions as a framework for national and multi-state planning and public investment, cutting across geographic and political boundaries to meet the economic, environmental and mobility challenges we are currently facing.
The global economy begs a different view requiring different economic and financial tools, governance agreements, mobility systems and resource management supporting and framing our economy.
“We’re not getting the synergies between metro economies we should be getting, the synergies our competitors around the industrial world are getting”, according to Robert Yaro of the Regional Plan Association of New York. “We are playing catch up ball and we need to accelerate our thinking and our actions.”
As globalization transforms economies around the world and more people move into urbanized areas, economic and population growth is converging.
Between now and 2050, more than half the population growth and as much as two-thirds of economic growth in the United States is projected to occur in interconnected areas known as megaregions.
At least eight such megaregions have been identified in the United States. One of these is the Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion (PAM), encompassing six states—Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee—and including metropolitan areas from Raleigh to Birmingham.
They came realizing that infrastructure has bipartisan credibility. According to Robert Hunter, President of the American Planning Association, “the federal government should concentrate on three critical areas: preserving and developing the interstate systems, developing a plan to move people between major metropolitan areas and developing a plan to move freight.”
Sam Olens, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Cobb County Commission asked, “What if we actually try to work together rather than suing each other.”
Beverly Scott, General Manager of MARTA asserted,” we are walking around in 20th century armor for what is now a 21st century world.” Josh Martin, South Carolina Department of Transportation, suggested,” We know how to widen roads and do grade separated interchanges, but we don’t have a clue about networks.”
Transportation systems are networked requiring a systems approach if future investments are to enhance system performance.
Pat McCrory, the dynamic Mayor of Charlotte, described his success in building light rail and cited the strategies being followed by Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania, and Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, and Schwarzenegger, Governor of California all of whom are forming partnerships to make long-term infrastructure investments.
In the Changing Face of Infrastructure (Wachovia Capital Markets, LLC, 2008) we are told,” an obvious solution— especially in the face of a moribund economy— is a massive building program, à la the post -Depression era.
President Obama has begun implementation of plans for a national infrastructure investment bank that would provide 60 billion in transportation financing and support up to 2 million jobs and 35 billion in new economic activity.
Similarly, China is embarking on its own “New Deal.” Much of China’s $586 billion stimulus package, unveiled recently, will be spent on infrastructure— highways, railroads, and airports– further powering China’s explosive growth and rising prosperity.
The best infrastructure solutions will be those steeped in creativity and innovation.
Unlike the bricks and mortar infrastructure buildout of the last century, the current buildout will benefit from vastly improved “info-structure technologies, alternative energy and fuel solutions, increased mobility and travel choices and their application within the broader context of spurring new economic growth and redevelopment.
It is this nexus of investment in new technologies, intellectual capacity, infrastructure systems and competitiveness that will enable our nation to sustain its place in the global economy.