Rodriguez Understands That Strategic Planning for Infrastructure Development Will Fuel Economic Growth
Most politicians of both parties find safety and comfort in the familiar promise that they support investments in infrastructure to fuel job creation in their districts. However, all too often the promise of infrastructure improvements is just an election year pledge, without any real connection to remedying current problems or addressing strategic concerns.
Our approach to infrastructure planning must be multi-faceted and strategic. We cannot get by with the piecemeal approach of old-fashioned pork-barrel politics. This requires visionary leadership from our elected officials and willingness to put national needs ahead of any regional or partisan agenda.
The U.S. is in need of a long-range strategic plan for infrastructure development that not only addresses current problems but also anticipates the needs of the next generation. Estimates of the current U.S. population hover at about 328 million, and that number is expected to reach 400 million by 2051. Given the long project life span of a transportation project from its first stage through environmental studies to its ultimate completion, the time is now to begin the work of designing and developing the highway infrastructure that will be needed by the middle of the twenty-first century. Although a significant part will require new construction, much of the work will involve redesigning and reconfiguring existing roadways and bridges to increase their capacity.
I would propose initiating an immediate study of all locations on our existing interstate highway system that are traffic nodes—that is, areas where three interstate highways come together within a ten mile radius. These are the potential bottlenecks that must be addressed first. We should begin to collect data at each of these nodes to see how effectively the existing system functions at its present capacity. This will allow us to make projections about the long-range functionality of the existing design.
In addition to considering highway construction projects, we must also look into other aspects of infrastructure development to accommodate anticipated needs of the coming generation. I believe it is worth considering the merits of commuter rail systems to connect mid-sized cities like several that exist here in the IL-18th district. In addition to the efficiency and long-range energy savings that such a system can provide, it also improves quality-of-life for those who experience long daily commutes.
We must also invest in river lock and dam improvements as part of a comprehensive infrastructure program. Our current river control structures are antiquated, and we must increase their capacity as well.
We must make wise, data-driven choices. Rather than measuring the success or failure of such projects only by short-term job creation, we must look more strategically at how the decisions of today influence the American economy of the future.
Rodriguez Proposes Completing the Interstate 72 Corridor
Job creation must be the highest priority of the next congressman to represent the IL-18th, and the urgency for immediate employment opportunities is greatest in the district’s western counties. One project in particular stands out as having the ability to transform the economic health and vitality of the residents of the IL-18th district. That is the completion of the Interstate 72 corridor across northern Missouri.
Although it seems counterintuitive for an Illinois congressional candidate to advocate for a federal highway project in a neighboring state, this is the type of innovative approach that Junius Rodriguez supports to move beyond narrow partisan politics. It is the kind of project that would require broad bipartisan support to realize.
The original late-1970s plan for the Interstate 72 corridor was to make it a major east-west artery through the Midwest, cutting across Illinois and Missouri. The Illinois portion of the highway was constructed, but it stops today at Hannibal, just two miles inside Missouri. Completing the corridor westward toward the greater Kansas City area would foster job growth not only within the construction industry but also within the aggregate building materials industry in the tri-state region. While such short-term job creation is significant, there is a much larger long-term prospect for job growth from an influx of motorists and travelers crossing much of the heartland of the IL-18th every day. Adding another significant east-west artery would alleviate traffic congestion in places like Des Moines, the Quad Cities, Chicago, and St. Louis while also preparing the nation to meet the infrastructure demands that will be needed for the next generation of transportation in the United States.
Congressman Darin LaHood did support a bipartisan bill to support infrastructure projects in December 2015, but that legislation did not include the completion of the Interstate 72 corridor even though that project was labeled a “high priority” by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Meanwhile Congressman LaHood has steadfastly refused to support the proposal backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to raise the gas tax to fund necessary improvements to the nation’s road and bridge system. The gas tax has not been raised since 1991, and it is currently unable to cover even maintenance costs on the nation’s transportation infrastructure. This is highly alarming given repeated warnings that significant portions of our current system are “structurally deficient.”
Junius Rodriguez believes that prudent use of scarce resources in the Highway Trust Fund can have tremendous economic benefit to rural, isolated counties that have been left out of the recovery that is currently underway. The Interstate 72 project, in particular, has the potential of generating thousands of new jobs and bringing opportunity to the places that have been forgotten for all too long while strategically increasing transportation capacity for the America of the future.
Rodriguez Proposes Program for Education and Job Training — Uplift in Place
We must make equal access to education and job training one of the primary goals addressed by the House of Representatives. Here in the 18th District, we know that many of our communities, especially in the more rural, isolated areas are not sharing in the highly touted economic recovery.
Since we cannot in good conscience accept the permanent existence of “forgotten places”, the Rodriguez for Congress campaign is proposing a bold new education and training initiative called “Uplift in Place” to give residents of these communities the opportunity to acquire the necessary skills where they are—so that they can obtain good jobs where they are.
“Uplift in Place” is intended to be a training program designed at the local level and assisted with grant support and targeted assistance from the state and federal levels where necessary. It will maximize the use of existing assets in the communities needing assistance. It will also identify opportunities to enable effective education and training using distance learning. Partnerships between community colleges, local public libraries, some school districts, and some faith-based organizations will be established. The goal is to make public libraries that choose to participate into effective education and training centers in their communities. In addition, we need to encourage corporate participation to provide fiber optic broadband access to the isolated communities. This can be done through offering appropriate tax credits as incentives.
Since “Uplift in Place” will be designed locally, it is not a one-size-fits-all government program. Individuals who need additional educational certificates or training will be able to find access to the resources in their own communities, removing barriers such as lack of access to computers or long commutes to the nearest community college. Local community assets that provide nursery school and/or child care programs will be supported by the initiative so that parents have the flexibility to participate. In short, this program will allow local communities to determine the best way to package educational resources of the twenty-first century so that a vibrant, locally trained workforce can be maintained.
Junius Rodriguez believes that his thirty-nine years of experience as an educator give him a unique perspective on addressing the important work of education and training programs so that workers in the IL-18th can remain competitive in the new economy of the twenty-first century. According to Rodriguez, the local design aspect of this program is the most important. Communities best know their own needs and circumstances and what local assets can be brought to bear with government playing a limited supporting role. Like HR 2224 – The Youth Access to American Jobs Act of 2015, which Congressman LaHood opposed, an initiative like “Uplift in Place” is designed to provide the means for communities to respond to local workforce and educational needs that can make a real difference in the lives of workers who are seeking to better their chances of being competing in the modern economy.