As we recover from Hurricane Sandy, leadership is required from all levels of government, as well as the private sector, to make needed infrastructure investments. The governors of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have all requested federal dollars to help rebuild their states. This important step should be followed by the development of long-term strategic infrastructure financing plans, and the means to implement them.
To better mitigate the damage from future storms, we need floodgates and levees to protect our shorelines, a stronger and smarter power grid to prevent outages and improve electricity distribution, better roads, bridges and rail lines to improve transportation safety, and enhanced capacity and fiber optics to improve communication.
These investments in 21st century infrastructure should be made not just in the Northeast but across the nation. Making infrastructure a priority creates middle-class jobs that cannot be outsourced, strengthens businesses and leads to stronger economic growth that allows the United States to compete in a global economy.
To make infrastructure a priority, we have to further leverage private funds toward public projects. As post-Sandy rebuilding begins and the federal government looks toward a long-term budget agreement, we should put in place innovative financing plans to enhance our infrastructure.
In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state legislators established the NY Works Task Force, bringing together leading finance, labor, planning and transportation professionals to coordinate a statewide plan that will effectively and strategically allocate funding. Cuomo also established the NYS 2100 Commission to find ways to improve the resilience and strength of the state’s infrastructure in the face of natural disasters and other emergencies.
In Connecticut, an assessment conducted when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy entered office identified a $15 billion to $20 billion need for unfunded transportation projects in the state’s capital plan, while Connecticut must also improve its century-old water delivery systems. Following Tropical Storm Irene and a historic Nor’easter in October 2011, Malloy created the Two Storm Panel, which recommended that Connecticut reinforce its infrastructure to withstand natural disasters and potentially use microgrids and other emerging technologies to mitigate the impact of future storms.
Both governors are working together after Sandy to push for necessary federal aid to help rebuild their states. Longer term, Connecticut and New York, as well as New Jersey, could look to the recently created West Coast Exchange, a partnership among California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia to find innovative financing solutions for regional infrastructure projects. We also should look at partnerships with other Canadian provinces and cities to fund mutually beneficial projects.
These efforts should be supported by the establishment of a National Infrastructure Bank, something we have long-championed. Such a government entity would catalyze private investment, through pension funds and other institutional investors, and provide financing, including loans and loan guarantees, to regionally and nationally significant projects.
As we have written previously, a National Infrastructure Bank would use a merit-based selection process to help finance transportation, water, environmental, energy and telecommunications projects. It would supplement, not supplant, current funding available at all levels of government to build out, among other things, high-speed rail, waterways, ports, clean water and drinking water systems, smart energy grids and broadband into rural and disadvantaged communities.
As our states rebuild in the aftermath of Sandy, and as we look for the best way to create jobs and economic growth while also addressing long-term deficits, we must make a National Infrastructure Bank a priority. Doing so will require a creative vision and a willingness to think outside the box. It will not be easy, but it must be done if we are to build a stronger America.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., is a member of the Appropriations Committee and is sponsor of legislation (HR 402) to create a national infrastructure development bank. Felix Rohatyn is former chairman of New York’s Municipal Assistance Corp. and co-chairs the NY Works Task Force and the NYS 2100 Commission.