President-elect Obama has one thing right as he gives his weekly addresses: we need some change, and we need to act swiftly and appropriately with this economic crisis. His response is appropriate, on its face: increase demand and market liquidity by investing in infrastructure.
But his call to build and repair roads and bridges will be the greatest missed opportunity since President Bush squandered our spiritual capital with our allies in the wake of September 11, 2001. It will be a waste not on par with the bailouts still being meted and even still being formulated in terms of dollars spent, but certainly in terms of misdirection.
We should commit some amount of any infrastructure-building program to include public transportation. To not so do is to break the promise still ringing from the Flash player: ‘build jobs, improve infrastructure, decrease dependence on oil, become more efficient, and increase America’s competitiveness in the world.’ Every single criteria he gives is met by investment in public transportation and in every case it is met better than by building and repairing roads.
I believe in hope and change, but it needs to be real change, not just a Player Piano. We need new directions and industries. Trying to tread water for a whole century is not going to cut it. Bailing out Detroit will not cut it. Walk the walk. Some of what he says is real change. Increased investment in technology will be a welcome change. Upgrades to public institutions such as government buildings and schools are great. Even pushing hospitals to become more wired, which fits nicely with the prospect of radical changes to our health care system in the next four years.
And some roads do need fixing. We do not want to imperil anyone through lack of investment in our existing infrastructure.
But we must begin to add rails to the mix. The sooner we do this crucial change in attitudes will begin to take place. People will start to see property values rise. New enclaves of shops can be born around the stops and routes the light rails take. It will become cheaper to add more down the rail once we’ve gotten rolling.
Right now, when it can be had for less money, when production can be ramped up, and when shops that are closed due to the downturn are ripe for retooling. Right now is the right time. But does Obama have the Right Stuff?