Moving too slowly

Clearly, we have some serious huffing and puffing to do if we are going to pull ourselves out of the current economic crisis. But it must be the right kind of huffing and puffing; the kind that grows our economy fast enough to produce the millions of steady jobs needed to put Americans back to work.

That means emphasizing major capital investment programs that are proven growth generators for an economy stuck in low gear; programs that create new jobs by the thousands and ensure America’s place as a 21st century economic leader, not a declining giant.

In short, we must focus on infrastructure programs that transform and modernize America’s obsolete capability to produce goods and services efficiently and get them to market with dispatch. That means upgrading the rickety transportation infrastructure that currently undermines the country’s growth potential.

We are at a crossroads. I guess the federal government could move aggressively to shrink the economy to a level where our mobility needs can be met by existing transportation capacity. Sometimes it seems like that’s exactly what they’re doing now.

Maybe we could convert our top 100 metropolitan areas into true 24-hour societies; improve the efficiency of existing transportation capacity by spreading out demand more evenly. It’s a winner for those of you who harbor a secret ambition to work the graveyard shift.

More realistically, we could forget about investing huge sums to build the new transportation capacity our economy needs and instead learn to live with what we’ve got. Stop bellyaching about bottlenecks that diminish our mobility. Leave earlier in the morning to accommodate a more time-consuming commute. Have dinner an hour or two later after the kids are in bed. At least we’ll be able to keep more income in our own pockets, instead of paying it to support transportation projects.

The last option is to do the unthinkable and move aggressively to build the new transportation capacity we need. Marshal the best talents of government and private enterprise to get it done in a sensible way. Face up to the costs and figure out clever new ways to cover them. Act like grown-ups for a change. As some pundits might say, this is the worst option – except for all the others.

For years, the federal government has told us “We can’t build our way out of congestion.” Of course we can. And we must, if we expect our children to live better than we do.

If we don’t man up and do it, we are looking into an abyss of lost dreams. The time for idle speculation over cold beers on warm summer afternoons is over; we have to start now. We need a new Moses to lead us out of the wilderness. This one will be wearing boots and a hard hat, with building plans rolled up under his or her arm.

If we do it right, we won’t just get some temporary construction jobs; we’ll have the foundation for generations of prosperity.

originally published: June 21, 2011