Squandering the Transformative Moment

By Dom Nozzi


The Wednesday, January 28, 2009 Washington Post reports that there is some congressional disappointment that Obama’s $800 billion stimulus bill has only a “small amount devoted to long-lasting infrastructure investments in favor of spending on a long list of government programs…[these government programs] fall far short of the transformative New Deal-like vision many of them had entertained…Obama, with a public mandate to do something big, is missing a rare opportunity to rebuild the country.”


Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) stated that “every penny of the $825 billion is borrowed against the future of our kids and grandkids, and so the question is: What benefit are we providing them?…It’s the difference between real investment that will serve the nation for 30, 50 years and tax cuts, and that’s a very poor tradeoff.” Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said that the money proposed for infrastructure is “almost miniscule” and expressed regret that Obama was not proposing a transformative project such as building high-speed rail in 11 corridors high-speed-railaround the nation (which Mica says would cost $165 billion).


“They keep comparing this to Eisenhower, but he proposed a $500 billion highway system, and they’re going to put $30 billion” in roads and bridges, said Mica. “How farcical can you be? Give me a break.”


According to some in the House, “…Obama may never again have as good a chance as this to act boldly.”


Frankly, I am deeply disappointed. Obama has perhaps more political capital than he will ever have in his term as president, and might have the most political capital of any president in recent history (or in the future). Given the fact that America has no “Plan B” in transportation to face the inevitable, exponential increase in gasoline prices, it is a breath-taking squandering of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform America’s transportation system towards one that is sustainable (not to mention the fact that a healthy rail system powerfully supports healthy city agglomeration and strongly discourages costly sprawl).


I urge the Senate and the Obama administration to delay approval of this historic bill until it contains a visionary, long-term, sustainable, transformative plan. Creating high-speed rail, as Mica points out, is a fantastic way to start on that desperately needed path.


I would also add to Mica’s vision. Some of our stimulus billions should be dedicated to restoring our roads and highways to sustainability. Countless numbers of them need to be transformed into “Complete Streets” through “road diets” (removal of travel lanes) and other traffic taming, livable tactics for road and highway modification.


American may never have this chance again.



Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

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Filed under Economics, Peak Oil, Politics, Urban Design

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