Pa.'s Rendell Urging Fix for Bridges, Roads

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has joined with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to urge the federal government to invest in restoring the country's crumbling infrastructure. Rendell discusses the effort.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News this is Weekend Edition. I'm Liane Hansen. This month on our program we've been examining the state of America's infrastructure. We've heard about the problems with the country's roads, levees, water systems and bridges. The question today is who's going to pay to make improvements? Certainly, we'll all pay in higher taxes. But what about private industry? What's in it for them to invest directly in public works? Coming up, a report from Curt Nickisch about private investment. But first we want to focus on efforts by elected officials to push for greater federal funding for infrastructure. This past January, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke in front of a backdrop of snarled highway trestles. He was flanked by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): The bottom line is that America right now needs 1.6 trillion dollars to rebuild and to really invest in the future. I think it is very important that we take this seriously. This is why we formed this coalition to put the spotlight on this issue nationwide. We must get going. We must invest.

HANSEN: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell joins us by phone. Welcome to the program, sir.

Governor ED RENDELL (Democrat, Pennsylvania): Hi, Liane. How are you?

HANSEN: Very well, thank you. You, Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Schwarzenegger, you've teamed up to form a coalition that's called Building America's Future. What do you hope to accomplish?

Governor RENDELL: Well, that's right. We're the founding fathers. But we hope to get every local county and state government enlisted in Building America's Future and to deliver a message to Washington that if America is going to have a future, an economically-viable future, a quality-of-life future, a future that involves public safety, we have to begin the business of repairing infrastructure. Governor Schwarzenegger in that tape you just played mentioned 1.6 trillion dollars. He didn't pull that out of thin air. That was a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers. It said that for America to repair its infrastructure, just repair what we have, would cost 1.6 trillion dollars.

HANSEN: Each state has its own issues. Pennsylvania has a unique set of infrastructure issues. What do you consider to be the top priorities in your state?

Governor RENDELL: The top priority, just because we have so many roads and so many rivers and streams, is bridges. We lead the nation in the most structurally-deficient bridges. We also have a huge problem in our clean water and waste water systems as well, a 15 to 20 billion dollars statewide problem. So we have a ton of problems. And we're willing to do our part, but we need federal help. The federal government's got to step up.

HANSEN: Let's talk a little bit about the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Last month, a Spanish firm and Citigroup bid some 12.8 billion dollars to lease the turnpike. And it's the state's only toll road at the moment. And you've been pushing for this deal for quite a while, but this past week the Pennsylvania Senate unanimously voted against the plan. How do you think this is going to affect foreign investment in your infrastructure in your state?

Governor RENDELL: Well, I think there's still a place for it. But I have told the legislatures, if you're worried about foreign investment then don't fly into Orlando. Don't take your family to Disney World, because guess who runs the Orlando Airport? You want to take a guess, Liane?

HANSEN: I don't know.

Governor RENDELL: Albertis.

HANSEN: One of the same companies.

Governor RENDELL: The same company that is bidding to run the turnpike, runs the Orlando Airport. If we're going to meet our infrastructure goals, if we're going to repair our roads, repair our bridges, do something about our waste water and water systems, we're going to have be creative. And the federal government's also going to have step up.

HANSEN: You called yourself and Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Schwarzenegger kind of the founding fathers of this transportation coalition. Early this month - I mean, speaking of founding fathers - we spoke to historian Robert Fishman about the history of infrastructure planning in this country. We want to play a little clip from that interview because he describes how Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin put together a national plan for roads and canals.

Professor ROBERT FISHMAN (Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan): Think about the incredible task of spanning a continent, of uniting this vast area into one country, into one economy. This was inconceivable without conscious national planning at the largest scale. Gallatin was a great economist, and he understood that maintenance was at least as important as initial investment.

HANSEN: Governor Ed Rendell, what do you think Gallatin and the founding fathers would have to say about the situation today?

Governor RENDELL: Well, I think if they were here, they would take a look at where we are, and I think they would adhere to one of our basic suggestions. And that's for a federal capital budget. You know, the federal government builds roads the same way it buys paperclips. Paperclips have a 30-day half-life, roads have a 30-year life. It's crazy. No one else does it in the entire U.S. Every state, county and local government has a capital budget. You need a federal capital budget to get an infrastructure repair program along the level of the 1.6 trillion that Governor Schwarzenegger talked about.

And we need to restore the public's confidence. So, major infrastructure projects. Some money will continue to go to the states, but major infrastructure projects go to this infrastructure bank that Senator Hegel, Senator Dodd have proposed, that Senator Obama is backing. And that infrastructure bank gives the yea or nay based on a good cost-benefit analysis of projects, particularly projects that take more than one state in. HANSEN: So it's possible to build on the legacy of Gallatin?

Governor RENDELL: Absolutely. It just takes the will to get this done. And the time to get it done is now. And think about one other benefit from this, Liane. We're in a stagnant economy and maybe even a full-blown recession. If we spent over the next five years, five to six years, repairing every aspect of the American infrastructure, building out a passenger rail system, what would we produce? Well, number one, we'd produce maybe millions of jobs, high-paying jobs, for Americans that can't by their very nature, can't be outsourced.

Secondly, we'd produce a whole boatload of orders for American steel and concrete and timber companies, for companies who produce all sorts of supplies. So it would be a huge shot in the arm for the economy, probably the best economic stimulus you could do. So you'd get a side benefit from the most important benefit, repairing and expanding our infrastructure, improving our economic competitiveness, or quality of life, and our public safety.

HANSEN: Governor Rendell, you sound like you might make a good secretary of transportation in the next administration. I mean, is it an offer that you would accept?

Governor RENDELL: Well, I said on a TV show in Harrisburg on Thursday night that I would be very interested in serving in either energy or transportation. But that would have to be after I serve my term as governor. If that position were open in January of 2011, I'd love to take a shot at something like that.

HANSEN: Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, thanks so much.

Governor RENDELL: Thanks, Liane. Have a great rest of the week.

HANSEN: You too.

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