Strategic Planning for Infrastructure Development Will Fuel Economic Growth
Whether Republican or Democratic, most politicians find safety and comfort in the familiar promise that they support investments in infrastructure to support job creation in their districts. I too stand among that number; guilty as charged. The difference, however, is found when you look into the specifics—the details—that follow the well-worn promise. All too often we see that the promise of infrastructure improvements is just an election year pledge that stands alone, absent any real connection to remedying current problems or addressing strategic concerns...
The U.S. is in need of a long-range strategic plan for infrastructure development that can address current problems and anticipate the needs of the next generation in commerce and transit.
Estimates of the current U.S. population hover at about 320 million and that number is expected to reach 400 million within the next thirty-five years. When we consider the typical project life span of taking a transportation project forward from its innovative germ stage to environmental scans 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 of this effort will require additional construction, much of the work will involve redesigning and reconfiguring existing roadways and bridges to handle the increase in capacity that will be anticipated by mid-century.
I would propose that we initiate an immediate study across the country 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 if we are to create an infrastructure network that can support commerce and transit needs that we anticipate by mid-century. We should begin to collect data at each of these nodes to address the functionality of the existing system with its present capacity requirements, and this will allow us to make projections about the long-range functionality of the existing design. Where it is deemed necessary, new construction projects must be anticipated and funded so that the engine of the American economy does not falter.
In addition to considering the merits of highway construction projects, we must also look into other aspects of infrastructure development that can accommodate anticipated need in the coming generation. I believe that it is worth considering the merits of commuter rail systems that might 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 might provide, it also includes an improved quality-of-life metric for those who currently experience a long commute each day just getting to and from work. In addition, it is imperative that we invest in river lock and dam improvements as part of a comprehensive infrastructure program that focuses upon the anticipated carrying capacity of our current antiquated river control structures.
Few politicians ever think beyond the timespan of election cycles, so it is sometimes difficult to get members of the U.S. Congress to agree to serious long-term strategic planning that is needed to prepare for mid-century commerce and transit needs. The approach that we take must be multifaceted, and we must not let it be degraded to the piecemeal approach of old-fashioned pork-barrel politics. We must make wise, data-driven choices in where we choose to invest our infrastructure resources, and we must strive to get the greatest efficiency out of our efforts. Rather than measuring the success or failure of such projects only in relation to short-term job creation, we must look more strategically of how the decisions that we make today can well influence the carrying capacity of the American economy well into mid-century and beyond. This requires visionary leadership on the part of our elected officials and the willingness to prioritize national needs ahead of any regional or partisan agenda.
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. Although support for improvements and innovations in the transportation sector constitutes one of the best means to stimulate job creation as we upgrade the nation’s infrastructure of roads and bridges, one project in particular stands out as having the ability to be singularly transformational to the economic health and vitality of the residents of the IL-18th district and that is the completion of the Interstate 72 corridor across northern Missouri.
It might seem to be counterintuitive for a congressional candidate in Illinois to advocate on behalf a federal highway construction project in a neighboring state, but this is type of innovative approach that Junius Rodriguez supports to move beyond the narrow parochialism of partisan politics. It is also the kind of project that would require broad bipartisan support in order to be realized.
The original plan for the Interstate 72 corridor when it was first conceptualized in the late-1970s was that it would become a major east-west artery through the Midwest cutting across Illinois and Missouri. The Illinois portion of the highway was constructed, but its western terminus lies today at Hannibal, MO, just two miles within Missouri. Completion of the corridor from that point westward toward the greater Kansas City area would foster job growth not only within the construction industry but also through the aggregate building materials industry in the tri-state region. While such job creation in the short-run is significant, it pales in comparison to the long-term prospects for job growth as an influx of motorists and travelers would cross much of the heartland of the IL-18th on a daily basis. Additionally, the completion of 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). Moreover, while Congressman LaHood has voiced the standard platitudes regarding the general importance of infrastructure improvements, he 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, which has not been raised since 1991, is currently unable to cover necessary maintenance costs on the nation’s transportation infrastructure despite dire warnings that significant portions of our current system are “structurally deficient.”)
Junius Rodriguez believes that wise investments must be made today in funding the needed improvements to roads and bridges that can not only create jobs in the short-run but also alleviate many of the long-term transportation bottlenecks for the coming generation. Rodriguez stated 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.”
Uplift in Place
We must strive to make equitable access to education and job training one of the primary goals that the House of Representatives must address when the 115th Congress begins its work in January 2017. This task is imperative if we are to ensure that the impact of the uneven economic recovery that we have experienced does not have debilitating effects upon the often rural, isolated communities that have been left behind.
Since the new economy of the twenty-first century cannot function effectively if we accept the persistence of “forgotten places,” the Rodriguez for Congress campaign is proposing a bold new education and training initiative called “Uplift in Place” that can prepare residents of the isolated communities the opportunity to acquire the necessary skills that they need—where they are—so that they can obtain good jobs—where they are.
“Uplift in Place” is intended to be a training program that will be designed at the local level and assisted with grant support and targeted assistance from the state and federal support where necessary. The initiative is one that will maximize the use of existing assets in the communities that need assistance, and it will seek to identify the kinds of synergistic opportunities that can maximize the effectiveness of educational outreach and training utilizing the best practices in the field of distance learning. Partnerships between community colleges, local public libraries, some school districts, and some faith-based organizations will be established and leveraged so that the public libraries that choose to participate can become effective education and training centers in their respective communities. In addition, we will seek to encourage corporate participation in this effort to provide fiber optic broadband access to the isolated communities that are thus served and this can be encouraged through appropriate use of tax credits as incentives.
Since “Uplift in Place” will be designed locally, it is not a monolithic, one-size-fits-all government program, but it is an innovative organic initiative that serves to remedy unmet need in communities across the country. Individuals who need additional educational certificates or training will be able to find access to these necessary resources in their communities, and barriers such as lack of access to computers or distance between their home and the nearest community college will no longer be an impediment to job training. Local community assets that provide nursery school and/or child care programs will be included in and supported by the initiative so that more flexible opportunities for educational engagement can be arranged. In short, this program will allow local communities to determine the best means by which the educational resources of the twenty-first century can be packaged so that a vibrant, locally trained workforce can be maintained.
Junius Rodriguez believes that his thirty-seven 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 consequential. Particular needs and circumstances that are recognized at the local level can be remedied through the repositioning—or repackaging—of local assets, and government exists primarily to play a limited supporting role in this endeavor.” 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 local autonomy 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 competitive in the modern economy. Junius Rodriguez believes that it is important to support such initiatives if we want to prepare a well-trained American workforce that can meet the ever-changing demands of the new global economy of the twenty-first century.