National Infrastructure Bank push is front and center for Build America’s Future

Coming on the heels of President Obama’s call for increased transportation infrastructure investment in the United States, a group of bipartisan politicians is calling on Congress to create a National Infrastructure Bank.

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Coming on the heels of President Obama’s call for increased transportation infrastructure investment in the United States, a group of bipartisan politicians is calling on Congress to create a National Infrastructure Bank.

The politicians are members of Build America’s Future (BAF), a national and bipartisan infrastructure coalition focused on transportation infrastructure-focused smart investment and reform.

In a letter to House and Senate leadership, BAF members stressed that action is needed to create a National Infrastructure Bank to help U.S. cities and states find additional methods of financing for projects of regional and national significance. BAF pointed out that with the current in limbo state of the country’s transportation funding (SAFETEA-LU funding is set to expire at the end of 2010) there is no national vision as to how we will plan for the next decade and more.

And BAF added that “the economic challenges we still face are all the more reason for us to look to the future and find new ways to create jobs, rebuild our decaying infrastructure, improve our quality of life, increase safety, and keep our nation economically competitive.”

At its core, a National Infrastructure Bank would increase funding that is severely needed for surface transportation projects by leveraging private and state and local capital to invest in projects critical to economic success, rather than the more traditional federal government approach of spending through earmarks and formula-based grants.

The concept of a National Infrastructure Bank pushed by Obama on Labor Day is not the first time the idea of an infrastructure bank has been floated. In fact, Obama’s proposed 2011 budget includes $4 billion to create a national infrastructure bank to provide a source of funding for infrastructure needs, which was rejected by a House Appropriations Committee transportation panel subcommittee in July, according to Bloomberg news. And he also broached the concept of an infrastructure bank that would invest $60 billion over a 10-year period for highways, technology, and other projects while running for President.

Since that time infrastructure banks have been receiving a fair amount of attention, as evidenced by yesterday’s Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on infrastructure investment as a way to fuel job creation and economic growth.

At the hearing Pennsylvania Governor and Co-Chair of Building America’s Future Edward Rendell said that infrastructure tends to only receive attention when something goes wrong, such as the I-35 W bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2008. Now, said Rendell is the time for the country to invest more into infrastructure and do it more wisely with a longer-term vision.

“What is missing at the federal level is a long-term vision about budgeting and planning for large-scale transportation projects,” said Rendell at the hearing. “We do not have a federal capital budget and because of that investments are typically made on an annual basis. We must change that investment strategy so that we invest the taxpayers’ dollars in the most meritorious projects that have the most economic impact.

Rendell also said that BAF believes the U.S. must create a National Infrastructure Bank so that the country has a single entity staffed by experts who can work to attract and leverage dollars from sate and local governments as well as the private sector. He noted that the bank will focus on projects of regional and national significance, remove politics from the process, subject all requests to a benefit-cost analysis, and set the standard for accountability and transparency.

A noted transportation infrastructure expert told LM that the introduction of a National Infrastructure Bank represents a tentative first step towards working more closely with the private sector and allowing the market—to some extent—to make investment decisions in infrastructure projects.

“The President could free up a lot more investment for infrastructure if he would clarify where he stands on public-private partnerships,” said Payson Peabody, of counsel, at Washington, D.C.-based law firm Dykema Gossett PLLC. “It has been unclear during his Administration so far.


About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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