01/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Whistle-Stop to Opportunity

In a nice nod to the whistle-stop political barnstorming of old, Barack Obama and Joe Biden are going to ride the rails from Philadelphia to Wilmington (Del.) to Baltimore and on to DC for their inauguration next month.

The journey will no doubt create a bunch of great photo-ops and help lay out a strong populist tone for the incoming administration. But this trip could be even more meaningful to the future of the country if they take the time to remember that every mile of track they will rumble down was only made possible by forward-thinking public infrastructure investments made more than a century-and-a-half ago.

The Obama administration seems to have its head on straight when it comes to investing in the future. The $500+ billion recovery package they are proposing seems to be a good start. But we have to make sure that money is spent in a way that makes sense. If we do, it could be one of the most successful anti-poverty programs the nation has ever seen.

First off, we must stop building more and wider roads out to far-flung exurbs. Instead, we need to fix the bridges, transit systems and roads we already have -- especially those in low-income communities that have long been ignored in infrastructure spending.

We need smarter, more targeted spending. We must invest in the people, places and projects that will spread the most opportunity to communities that need it. These projects will create good-paying construction, technical and service jobs in the short-term -- but, more importantly, lay a foundation for more competitive, more inclusive, more opportunity-rich communities for generations to come.

Each investment in this massive recovery package should serve the long-term interests of America. If we improve and expand public transit, for instance, we can give working families a way to get to the good jobs they need. If we install new broadband lines in low-income communities, we can connect a new wave of entrepreneurs and small-business to the digital revolution. If we build new grocery stores in poor neighborhoods now reliant on junk-food laden convenience stores, we can improve healthy eating, cut down on obesity and diabetes, and create a source of permanent, good-paying jobs in these communities.

The key to making these investments count is to ensure they are not just building structures, but they are building communities and lifting up people. That is why money from each of these projects should be set aside to create job-training programs in low-income communities to create a pipeline of ready and able workers.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden seem to understand that we need a dramatically different way to rebuild our nation's backbone. But as they chug along on their way to the inauguration, I hope they are thinking about the hard-work and vision that went into each mile of that track.

Angela Glover Blackwell is founder and CEO of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity.