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Source: PUBLIC WORKS

Infrastructure is the second of the World Economic Forum's 12 pillars of competitiveness, more important than health care and education and secondary only to the ability of a nation to govern itself. We're still a powerhouse, ranked fifth overall among 142 nations. But according to the forum's recently released Global Competitive Index, which defines competitiveness as the institutions, policies, and factors that affect productivity, our infrastructure's slipping.

Four years ago, our infrastructure ranked sixth. Now it's 16th. Canada, England, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Singapore rank higher.

That's why I find this month's cover story simultaneously compelling and cautionary. The 800,000 residents of a Midwestern city have agreed to commit $3 billion — half the stimulus allocation for state water and wastewater revolving loans combined — over two decades to ensure their undersized wastewater system doesn't belch as much untreated sewage into surrounding rivers. In fact, public works managers were able to lower by more than $500,000 how much their customers will pay. But getting there involved extensive partnering with the private sector, vociferous support by the mayor, and controversial approaches (can anyone say “value engineering”?).

If we continue to maintain that infrastructure is a shared public asset, we've got several options.

We can send our taxpayer dollars to Washington and hope they're returned via loans or grants. We can pay local water and sewer utilities appropriately for the life-giving service they provide, which includes supporting the upgrades necessary to comply with Clean Water Act programs we the people have mandated. We can quit ham-stringing the men and women attempting to satisfy these mandates by insisting that design-bid-build always provides the best value for our investment. We can change our definition of “clean” water.

The Obama administration's recognition of infrastructure is heartening, but whatever our elected officials provide for funding programs will never eliminate the need for additional contributions from someone, somewhere, somehow. So perhaps it's time to rethink our wants versus our needs and update decades-old models (can anyone say “federal gas tax formula”?) to reflect today's realities.

- Stephanie Johnston,
Editor in Chief

We count on annual Community Development Block Grants to fund a substantial portion of a street reconstruction project each year. Without those funds, we'll scale back or possibly postpone projects.

If we can't fix the infrastructure now, how do they think we can afford to do it later? It's going to cost 100 times more in 10 years!

Rebuilding infrastructure the way the President Eisenhower stipulated – between 1996 and 2015 – would solve the jobs crisis today.

We're rate-reliant and customers won't tolerate servicing more debt through programs like state revolving loans.

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