Dear Barack: About Our Vital Infrastructure

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Remember when a bridge spanning the Arkansas River near Webbers Falls, Oklahoma collapsed? That was May 2002. It didn’t help that a barge hit it. That incident was a wake-up call to our nation about our pressing infrastructure needs.

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I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis (2007).

Then about seven years ago the I-35 Bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed. That wasn’t a wake-up call; it was gross negligence on the part of WE the people.

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“Experts” have been complaining about our crumbling infrastructure for years; infrastructure considered a part of our nation’s wealth. What does that say about us as a nation? We are allowing our country’s riches to dissolve in front of our eyes.

In the February 26, 2014 issue of Equipment World, Wayne Grayson wrote:

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President Barack Obama has proposed a $302 billion, four-year transportation reauthorization bill with the aim of avoiding the Highway Trust Fund’s looming insolvency as well as providing a much-needed boost to the infrastructure improvements he promised during 2013′s State of the Union address.

It is wonderful to see the President once again concerned about maintaining our roads and fixing our bridges: those things known as infrastructure. I applaud the move, but my real reaction is whoop-de-do; more bullshit.

Efficiency

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So here we go again . . . another federal government program that either takes money or borrows it from us, to give it back to us after scoring a sizable cut. Is that the definition of “efficient? “

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George H.W. Bush signed the ISTEA.

During George H.W. Bush’s administration, Congress authorized a four-year transportation bill called the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991, more commonly called “Ice Tea” in transportation circles. The operable word, which differentiated this road funding from previous, was efficiency. The act’s intent was to create greater efficiency in the transportation networks crisscrossing our nation. Those transportation funds, along with subsequent congressional authorizations over the years, were intended help guide us in spending our scarce resources, so we would become more efficient as a nation. That didn’t happen. But the spending did build roads and bicycle paths, and it did put people to work.

As a member of a regional transportation advisory board (for 15 years), I thought this 1991 transportation act was going to be a wonderful opening salvo in creating a more efficiently built environment and would create a more efficient economy–an economy that would be able to compete more effectively worldwide. Boy, was I ever wrong. It was merely a stupid human trick, or maybe a stupid congressional trick. It spent money where the road lobbies wanted PORK. As a result, we are becoming less efficient, not more efficient.

Prediction: Same Old Crap

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The same thing that happened in 1991 and subsequent years will happen again under President Obama, mainly because he is terribly naive. This latest transportation bill will again give us our own money – or our children’s money – to build an environment causing us to be less competitive–which is cause for us losing jobs. This is not real smart.

If you think I’m complaining about the federal government, you’re only partially right. I’m complaining about the ineptness and complacency of state and local governments, and the citizens who vote incompetent people into office. I’m complaining about the fact that we vote for people with identifiable names, or great haircuts, or for someone who talks “good.” We vote for people because of their race or gender and not because they possess real skills. I’m complaining about “we the people” who stand idly by and watch this insanity unfold around us, and then complain if our wages aren’t going up, or our hours are cut to part-time status, or if there are radical fluctuations in the financial markets . . . then we demonstrate against “rich” people. I’m complaining because we act like a bunch of idiots.

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They call this traffic clog “rush hour?”

Most of all, I’m complaining about transportation “experts” who are not aware of a bigger picture than moving cars, trucks, and boats from point A to point B; experts who have nearly single-handedly created, fostered, and perpetuated one of the most inefficient built environs ever in history. And to beat all, these are the experts to whom the President will defer. Why? Because he’s a young guy who became an attorney who has no real-world experience in anything but playing politics. As a result, he has to defer to someone. What that really means is the President has no clue what to do.

This is another case where the President’s rhetoric doesn’t match his experience, or his knowledge. Here’s a guy who is supposedly concerned about the long-term use of fossil fuels, and wanted to fundamentally transform our nation. So what has he done? He has done everything he can to make our civilization more inefficient and unable to compete in global markets. When right in front of him, staring him right in the face, lies the greatest opportunity to alter the course of history: a four-year transportation reauthorization bill. He’s asleep at the wheel.

A few years ago, about the time President Obama was elected, I wrote a book that explains all this institutional insanity, and what to do about it. I had hope in my heart and great optimism about the future. I wrote about what the future held if the President followed through, and did what he said he’d do. I then wrote Chapter 16, an open letter to the President about Infrastructure Spending titled “DEAR BARACK.”

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Dear President Obama,

 

When you and Congress spend our money on infrastructure (which by the way, for those who don’t know, is part of our nation’s wealth) under the various stimulus packages, please don’t spend it on the same forms of infrastructure that has (1) made us so inefficient as a society and (2) caused us to become more and more dependent upon depletable forms of energy. A continuation of expenditures for infrastructure using the same model for our society’s physical development will do nothing but guarantee that we will continue the trend of the past 60 years: We have created a physical environment that mandates we spend an inordinate amount of our wealth on all forms of energy. This has caused us to become less competitive . . .

Barack Obama Campaigns In Virginia
Which way will Barack go?

There is more to the letter. I suggest that programs, policies, and expenditures be changed so that we as a nation become more efficient and more sustainable. You can read all about it if you are so inclined.

As we shifted many decades ago from an agricultural-based economy to an industrial economy, the forms of our communities, our transportation networks, and the built environment reflected that change. The forms followed the economy’s function as well as the profound changes in technology. Just as that had occurred then, similar transitions are taking place today as our economy shifts. I won’t go into all the statistics pertaining to the scope of the Communications Age (ICE Age) economy, which you can read about in my book. I just want to point out that, as a result in this paradigm shift, for the first time in civilization we are seeing this: no physical constraints to our development of products and the creation of wealth. The implications of this fact on land-use policies, our transportation networks, and the development and efficiency of the built environment are staggering–implications that are not being addressed by our transportation policies and expenditures.

Please . . . someone call the President and tell him that a wonderful opportunity exists to help our economy compete globally and more effectively. Those federal expenditures on infrastructure, made today, can begin to decrease demand for fossil fuels. That in turn will help our business and will create long-term jobs for our citizens.