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Aging Infrastructure Must Be On Forefront

At the opening of the meeting of the American Planning Association in Las Vegas, Earl Blumenauer called for a comprehensive plan for our century to repair a country that is “literally falling apart.” Blumenauer, a Congressman from Oregon, is well known to many in the planning world for his advocacy on smart growth policy (as well as his signature bow tie and bicycle pin). He was speaking of the dire need to mend and replace our aging infrastructure (roads, water supply systems, wastewater, stormwater, power, and so on). The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. a "D minus" grade for the state of its infrastructure (and Blumehauer believes that is only because they were grading on a curve). The Federal government currently spends less than one half of the amount spent on infrastructure during the Reagan era. And the Highway Trust Fund is running a deficit for the first time in its history.

While the state of our infrastructure is alarming, Blumenauer’s talk was not all gloom-and-doom. He spoke of many initiatives that are in the works such as the Water Trust Fund, which will (ideally) be in place next month, and will use federal funds to address water quality and resource issues. A climate-safe community act has been introduced that would address climate change by rethinking design and ways to reduce vehicle miles traveled.

To facilitate change, he said, it is critical that planners find a political voice. He called for a fall infrastructure summit to address the issue of our failing infrastructure with the presidential candidates (where Blumenauer would have a few choice words for them about suspending the gas tax). He also noted the work of America 2050, an initiative of the Regional Planning Association and Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, which has engineered a federal land use planning policy.

Will the new White House administration take on the non-sexy topic of our aging infrastructure? Urban policy, beyond the sub-prime mortgage crisis, has barely registered during the campaign as candidates vie for the non-urban vote. But as the nation becomes more urbanized, reaching 80 percent urban/suburban, the issue must come to the forefront. The site of the APA meeting in 2009—Minneapolis—reminds us of the dire possibility of ignoring the issue of our decaying infrastructure.