Leaders Discuss the Future of Infrastructure at PA Event

At yesterday’s American Infrastructure at a Crossroads event, held at Central Pennsylvania College, the discussion focused not only on the kind of infrastructure we typically think of — roads and bridges, rail, water/wastewater — but also on the slightly atypical — web infrastructure. It was all with an eye toward encouraging state and federal legislators to prioritize infrastructure spending. The panel was made up of experts from various fields, including engineering, labor, and environment. And — surprise, surprise — the Director of Google Pittburgh was there representing the web infrastructure perspective.

US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood delivered his message via satellite, as he had a meeting in Washington that day also on the topic of infrastructure.  Sec. LaHood stressed that the American public’s desire to see high-speed rail lines established across the nation will be fueling the administration’s agenda to bring rail to all major cities over the next decade. When the discussion turned to the establishement of regional passenger rail networks within Pennsylvania, Sec. LaHood stressed the public to keep contacting their legislators in order to encourage them to make passenger rail a top priority.

Though a majority of the discussion centered on transportation infrastructure, some mention was made on the importance of upgrading our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure. Dick Gephardt, speaking on the panel, acknowledged that much of our water infrastructure had not been upgraded for decades and that the systems are reaching the end of, or are exceeding, their life expectancy. This is not new information to those that have been working on this issue or following it closely in the news. It is almost on a weekly basis now that we hear about a pipe bursting or about contamination of a local stream by wastewater overflow.

Overall, the mood was hopeful, with leaders and experts encouraging the audience to continue contacting state and federal legislators and telling them that infrastructure spending should be a priority. This is especially important in Pennsylvania, as we are looking at a significant gap in our transportation funding (as part of Act 44). Governor Rendell warned that the funding gap would have a crippling effect on the Commonwealth’s essential transportation network, and that the state’s economy depended on this network.

The only disappointment I took away from the event was the insufficient coverage that sustainable design received in the discussions. Livable communities were briefly mentioned by Sec. LaHood at the beginning, but there was little or no talk of walking or bicycling infrastructure throughout the entire session. As Matt Zieger poignantly stated on his Twitter, “It’s a simple equation…if people live more closely together, infrastructure costs are lower! (less miles of road/pipe/wire/fiber).”

Make sure to follow us on Twitter @renewlv to catch up on all of our coverage of yesterday’s event.

About Beata Bujalska

Beata Bujalska is the former Campaign Coordinator for Renew Lehigh Valley. She currently lives in Panama, a place that fascinates her due to (among other reasons) its recent development boom.

Posted on August 11, 2010, in Media Coverage, Municipal Government, Public Infrastructure, Transportation, Urbanism, Water and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the great write up, and for the quote!

    I do believe that the funding fight unfortunately obscures the real tough core of the issue, which is that we do not pass on the true cost of sprawling development to citizens. For market forces to stabilize this crisis, new development in locations where it take a disproportionate amount of linear feet of pipe/road/fiber must feel the appropriate percentage of that infrastructure’s life-cycle cost.

    Right now there is no dis-incentive to spend tens of millions of dollars on new roads, pipe, and wires to service a new development that will benefit 10 families. The upfront costs may be born partially by the developers, but the life-cycle upkeep and replacement costs of that road and pipe are not born proportionately by those families.

    Transparent, actual cost usage fees for all infrastructure is a necessary and wise public policy step.

  2. Not to mention how easy it is to receive federal money to build a new road/highway, yet how incredibly difficult it is to get some improvements on an already existing one. Let’s not even get started on how impossible it is to add sidewalks to roads these days because “there is no money for it.”

    I agree with you. Actual costs must be determined. It seems that we have been suffering from short-sightedness when it comes to planning for too long.

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