A Game Changing Infrastructure Investment Strategy

09/27/2011 02:19 pm ET | Updated Nov 27, 2011

As President Obama continues to promote his Jobs Act around the country, his latest stop was to a crumbling Ohio River bridge to further highlight the sweeping need to rebuild our country's infrastructure.

I support the president's call for creating an infrastructure bank, but when it comes to a credible infrastructure-driven employment and growth strategy for all Americans, we need far more than just another round of federal pork.

We need a game changing infrastructure revitalization strategy for the millions of quality jobs the Administration and Congress failed to create two years ago.

This time we need to be bolder, smarter and think like Jack Kennedy did when he challenged us to reach for the moon.

Accordingly, I challenge Washington to lead a visionary, trillion dollar infrastructure investment strategy for our nation; creating six million high paying, quality jobs in partnership with both state and municipal government, and the private sector.

Our nation's critical economic and employment challenges come at a time when the infrastructure financing mechanisms used in the past can no longer provide the dollars required to both maintain our existing infrastructure and fund the significant improvements our country so urgently needs.

Other countries figured this out decades ago: they fund their critical infrastructure investments with the proven tools of infrastructure banks and development funds, coupled with effective strategies to mobilize private sector resources in tandem with government. They are creating and maintaining world class infrastructure. Just go to Shanghai, Paris, Seoul or Mumbai to see what I mean.

We can too and here is how we do it:

1) Create a "fast track" authority to green-light critically needed infrastructure. As President Obama discovered with the American Recovery Act, "shovel ready" projects are in short supply, even while the list of critical infrastructure needs grow on a daily basis. The permitting and approval process for any project, big or small, has to be significantly streamlined. It goes without saying that safety standards and basic environmental sustainability must be protected, but cut through that regulatory red tape and the bureaucracy, and put together a balanced authority that can give a quick yes or no.

2) Capitalize an infrastructure bank which is independent from politics (Bank), not at $10 billion, as President Obama proposes, but at $250 billion, and have the Bank focus on commercially feasible user fee projects, such as toll roads, water projects and airport upgrades. Private investment will flow to these projects, and based on my experience, I believe we can source at least $2 of private capital for every $1 from the Bank.

The Bank can then mobilize $750 billion dollars to invest in once again making America's infrastructure the best in the world. Wisely led and staffed with the best infrastructure investment talent in the country, I believe it can be self-sufficient in five years and would return the Treasury's investment in 10-15 years.

3) As did FDR to fight the Depression, fund a new infrastructure Public Works Administration (PWA2) for necessary projects that don't offer the same direct commercial payback as the projects funded by the Bank, such as rural and urban light rail, but that offer significant social and economic benefit for the future as well as job creation. The PWA2 would also need to be big, at $250 billion dollars, funded half from infrastructure user fees and half from the Treasury. Like the Bank, PWA2 will be an important and necessary investment in our future.

In the polarization of Washington gridlock, both Democrats and Republicans have to give ground to make this happen. But Democrats have to be realistic about the regulatory hurdles that keep critically needed, job creating infrastructure projects from getting built, just as Republicans cannot pretend that our nation's infrastructure will magically build itself if we just cut government spending.

Bold presidential leadership has been instrumental in ensuring the success of vital infrastructure projects through our history. President Obama told us how Lincoln spurred the transcontinental railroad, but there were many other visionary presidents too:

Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft were instrumental in making the Panama Canal happen, Franklin Roosevelt was in the forefront of the formation the Tennessee Valley Authority, and Dwight Eisenhower took the lead in creating the Interstate Highway system. And it wasn't just presidents -- Speaker Sam Rayburn and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson set aside partisan bickering and joined with the White House to lead in building the Interstate Highway System.

So why can't President Obama, Speaker Boehner, and Majority Leader Reid similarly come together around a "grand infrastructure bargain" -- one that creates millions of jobs and makes vital investments in our future economic growth, not just for their constituents and partisan allies, but for the benefits of all Americans, present and future.

According to a 2009 University of Massachusetts/Alliance for American Manufacturing study, every billion dollars invested in infrastructure creates 18,000 jobs. Even at a third of this level of job creation, an investment of one trillion dollars to revitalize America's infrastructure can create six million jobs and cut the unemployment rate dramatically.

A bold and visionary infrastructure strategy can create the jobs we need today and pave the way toward a bright economic future for our country. This will happen if we get the same bi-partisan leadership and commitment from our leaders in Washington that Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn and Dwight Eisenhower brought to the creation of the Interstate Highway System sixty years ago.