In 1808, at the request of President Thomas Jefferson, Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin created a national plan of ports, roads, and inland waterways to encourage settlement of the nation and facilitate trade. In 1908, Theodore Roosevelt convened governors to draft a plan for inland waterways, irrigation, river restoration and dam projects, in tandem with the nation’s vast railway network.
In 2008, a new national plan for infrastructure is taking shape, responding to 21st century challenges including economic competitiveness, energy independence, and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At “Rebuilding and Renewing America: Toward a 21st Century Infrastructure Investment Plan” on May 9 in Washington D.C., members of Congress, representatives of state government, and civic, business, and labor leaders came together to share ideas on the ambitious task.
The forum, a project of America 2050, an initiative of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy with the Regional Plan Association, took place at the Woodrow Wilson Center. A big emphasis of America 2050 has been thinking about the nation as a collection of about a dozen “megaregions,” such as the Boston-Washington corridor or the Pacific Northwest, that share economic, environmental, and other concerns. Armando Carbonell, senior fellow at the Lincoln Institute, said that megaregions provide a useful framework for making decisions on infrastructure investments such as intercity rail.
Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon, said that infrastructure investment was “the most important issues not yet on the front burner” in this presidential election year, although Speaker Nancy Pelosi has it on her agenda. Other members of Congress at a session moderated by Jonathan Capehart from The Washington Post included Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Tom Petri (R-WI), Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Jim Obserstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, by video. “We have an infrastructure that has been left unattended,” said Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell, who also spoke at the forum. “It’s time to get serious.”
Other speakers included Terence M. O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin, Thomas J. Donahue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, and Jonathan P.F. Rose, president of Jonathan Rose Companies. The forum was taped by C-SPAN.