As U.S. unemployment continues to hover around 9 percent, the subject of job creation continues as the dominant discussion in our country. Here in Michigan, where unemployment has outpaced the national average for most of the last decade, we have hashed, rehashed, and re-rehashed the subject for what seems like an eternity. To this point in time, however, the results have been less than encouraging.
Yesterday, I was privileged to be part of an event dubbed the Transportation Twitter Talk sponsored by the Michigan Municipal League (MML) and Let’s Save Michigan. The day brought together national and state experts to take part in a discussion about the importance of creating a 21st Century infrastructure backbone. The event was broadcast through various social media including Twitter and Facebook.
The fact that the event included a national think tank like the Brookings Institute, the state’s chamber of commerce, the Michigan Environmental Council, and the state’s arm of Transportation for America is good news. The fact that everybody at the table was signing from an identical hymnal about the critical importance of infrastructure is downright exciting. Here are a few tidbits I picked up, in no particular order:
- Millennials will increasingly rely on public transportation options. They would rather spend money on technology than on a car.
- A Denver airline passenger who lands in Detroit (DTW) will have spent less time in the air than they will on public transportation if they use it to travel to the area’s largest suburban commercial and shopping center of Troy, which is only about 30 miles away.
- The public sector in the U.S. spends north of $170 billion each year on transportation, and we’ll need to spend even more to modernize our battered infrastructure.
- The nation lacks a clear-cut vision for transportation, and no way to target spending to make sure all those billions of dollars help achieve our economic and environmental goals. That means we have a lot of bridges to nowhere, with nobody making sure that these big investments generate enough returns to be worthwhile, or that they address any number of the large, thorny problems that are crucial to the well-being of the nation.
- Since 2000, we’ve added enough new lane miles to circle the globe four times. Yet border crossings, crucial to our nation’s exports, are chronically congested, and there’s no concerted effort to help unblock them. And city infrastructure is largely in disrepair.
- Transportation policy should be retooled to increase exports, create greener cities, support innovation, and get people to work.
- Cities and large metropolitan areas cannot be competitive without strong public transit options.
- Job growth cannot accelerate without a comprehensive transportation strategy that includes roads, bridges, transit, light rail and non-motorized forms.
Taken individually, these points are important. But when they are viewed in the whole, they should set off alarms in Washington and at state capitols and city halls throughout the land. As I stated yesterday, setting into place an effective, appropriately funded, modern transportation system is the single most effective direct economic influence that a local, regional, state or federal government can have on the lagging economy. We need to stop talking and start moving.