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Election Devoid of Infrastructure Talk

It’s a presidential election year and in what amounts to the nastiest campaign in modern memory, no one is talking about infrastructure. It’s like the passage of Map-21 was the end of that discussion.

So it came as a total surprise to me when the local newspaper here in Cleveland, The Plain Dealer – vetting President Obama and Mitt Romney in preparation for an inevitable endorsement – put them on the spot about our nation’s infrastructure.

“Historically [transportation has] never been a Democratic or Republican issue,” Obama told The Plain Dealer. “We've got a whole bunch of deferred maintenance right now, and the construction industry is still weak despite the fact we're starting to see housing tick up.”

Asked specifically how his administration would prioritize such projects, city versus suburban, Obama replied: “I think that increasingly not only experts, but also voters, recognize the old urban-suburban-exurban divide doesn't really make sense anymore. When you look at states here in the Midwest, cities are the economic engines for the suburbs.”

Obama favors an infrastructure bank, which would back private investment in transportation projects with public money. Projects would be selected based on how they would boost a region or state. But attempts to create the bank have stalled in Congress, and Obama acknowledged that “we haven't gotten it instituted as robustly as we would like.”

Romney said his infrastructure priorities would extend beyond urban centers. “Our infrastructure's crumbling,” Romney said. “It was built in the 1950s and 1960s, it had an estimated 50-year life, and you're seeing a dramatic need to repair what we have and to expand our system to remove the choke points that are making it more difficult for our goods to travel across the nation.”

Romney said he favors public-private partnerships to fund transportation projects. Such arrangements, he said, allow entities to work together “to expand our infrastructure and then devote a stream of revenue to repay the public-private partnership.”

So there you have it. It isn’t much. And the temporary funding mechanism called Map-21 isn’t near enough to get us to a reality based future.

Mark S. Kuhar, editor
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Member: Construction Writers Association