We cannot, in good conscience, allow more infrastructure failures like those in New Orleans and San Bruno

The national leadership of the American Council of Engineering Companies announced earlier this month that they support the President’s new $50 billion transportation infrastructure initiative and urged the White House to also advocate other pending, longer term infrastructure proposals.

In its letter to the President, our national organization commended him for using infrastructure investment as a mechanism for economic growth and urged him to work with Congress in breaking the logjam on multi-year aviation, water and surface transportation bills currently awaiting action in the House and Senate. Right now, details of the President’s $50 billion initiative are still being developed, but to be realistic the prospects for passage this year are remote–especially given our current contentious political environment.

It is unfortunate that the President chose not to launch this effort six months or a year earlier when professionals who can solve infrastructure problems advocated the idea as a key tool for an effective economic recovery agenda. If he had, perhaps Stimulus 1 would have been a more powerful, longer-term tool for job growth in the private as well as the public sector. But one thing is certain: President Obama’s proposal has, once again, injected infrastructure investment back into the arena of public discourse. Meanwhile, here in California the public has been made acutely aware of our infrastructure problems by the deadly failure of a 60 year old gas pipeline in San Bruno.

Whatever changes occur in Congress and the California Legislature after the November elections, both bodies should be pressed hard to commit to rebuild our state and national infrastructure now, not later. In fact one of the more lasting results of the battle for our hearts and minds that is happening right now in California and in Washington DC should be a new resolve to finally tackle the modernization of our crumbling infrastructure–with a new energetic offensive equal to that planned for the trip to Mars. These investments may be both public and private in nature, and they could even be used to enforce increased oversight initiatives over such entities as private utility companies.

If we do not, our lack of resolve will diminish our global competiveness. Worse, there is increased risk that we will experience more New Orleans catastrophes and San Bruno infrastructure failures. These failures will not just come from sleeping defects under our homes–but in the form of increased highway deaths caused by failing roadways, a loss of clean drinking water as aging water systems fail, and yes, the catastrophic failure of delivery systems for natural gas, gasoline, electricity and other life supporting materials. The loss of life and property that those catastrophes entail will surely be more painful than inconvenient. The fact that we as a society need loss of life to intensify our resolve weighs heavily, especially on those of us who know how to solve these problems, and who stand ready at a moment’s notice to roll up our sleeves to get the job done.

Jerry Michael
ACEC California President

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