THE BLOG
09/29/2015 12:46 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2016

Pleasures and Pains of Infrastructure


An irritated Rhode Island citizenry has blocked a bid by the Pawtucket Red Sox, employing very few people and with a mostly seasonal business, to grab valuable public land and erect, with lots of public money, a stadium in downtown Providence, on Route 195-relocation land.
The plan would have involved massive tax breaks for the rich PawSox folks that would have been offset by mostly poorer people's taxes.

The public is belatedly becoming more skeptical about subsidizing individual businesses. (Now if only they were more skeptical about casinos' "economic-development'' claims. Look at the research.)

Perhaps Lifespan will sell its Victory Plating tract to the PawSox. And maybe a for-profit (Tenet?) or "nonprofit'' (Partners?) hospital chain will buy Lifespan, which faces many challenges. Capitalism churns on!

In any event, the stadium experience is a reminder that we must improve our physical infrastructure, in downtown Providence and around America.

Improved infrastructure will be key to a very promising proposal by a team comprising Baltimore's Wexford Science & Technology and Boston's CV Properties LLC for a life-sciences park on some Route 195-relocation acres. This could mean a total of hundreds of well-paying, year-round jobs in Providence at many companies. Tax incentives for this idea have merit. (I'd also rather fill the land slated for a park in the 195 area with other job-and-tax-producing businesses, but that's politically incorrect.)

The proximity of the Alpert Medical School at Brown University, the Brown School of Public Health, hospitals and a nursing school is a big lure. Also attractive is that Providence costs are lower than in such bio-tech centers as Boston-Cambridge and that the site is on the East Coast's main street (Route 95, Amtrak and an easy-to-access airport).

Rhode Island's decrepit bridges and roads are not a lure. Governor Raimondo's proposal for tolls on trucks (which do 90 percent of the damage to our roads and bridges) to help pay for their repair, and in some cases replacement, should have been enacted last spring. It's an emergency.

It takes far too long to fix infrastructure, be it transportation, electricity, water supply or other key things. The main impediment is red tape, of which the U.S. has more than other developed nations. That's why their infrastructure is in much better shape than ours.

Common Good sent me a report detailing the vast cost of the delays in fixing our infrastructure and giving proposals on what to do. It has received bi-partisan applause. But will officials act?

The study focuses on federal regulation, but has much resonance for state policies, too. And, of course, many big projects, including the Route 195-relocation one, heavily involve state and federal laws and regulations.

Among the report's suggestions:

* Solicit public comment on projects before (my emphasis) formal plans are announced as well as through the review process to cut down on the need to revise so much at the end, but keep windy public meetings to a minimum.

* Designate one (my emphasis) environmental official to determine the scope and adequacy of an environmental review in order to slice away at the extreme layering of the review process. Keep the reports at fewer than 300 pages. The review "should focus on material issues of impact and possible alternatives, not endless details.'' Most importantly, "Net overall (my emphasis) impact should be the most important finding.''

* Require all claims challenging a project to be brought within 90 days of issuing federal permits.

* Replace multiple permitting with a "one-stop shop.'' We desperately need to consolidate the approval process.

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Amidst the migrants flooding Europe will almost inevitably be a few (or a lot of) ISIS types. That there are far too many migrants for border officials to do thorough background checks on is scary.

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Fall's earlier nightfalls remind us of speeding time. When you're young, three decades seem close to infinity, now it seems yesterday and tomorrow. I grew up in a house built in 1930, but it seemed ancient. (My four siblings and I did a lot of damage!) Yet in 1960, when I was 13, the full onset of the Depression was only 30 years before. The telescoping of time.

Robert Whitcomb (rwhitcomb51@gmail.com) is a Providence-based editor and writer, a partner in the healthcare-sector consultancy Cambridge Management Group (cmg625.com), a fellow of the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy and overseer of newenglanddiary.com.