A Day At The Races - Washington Insider
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A Day At The Races


Article Date: 03-01-2006
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

Reminds us the Romans "got it" when it came to infrastructure.

Watching the Daytona 500 this past weekend got me thinking about the Romans. What started it was a passing remark by one of the commentators that more than 230,000 people were attending the Florida race, one of the most popular of the NASCAR circuit. That's a lot of people.

I contemplated what an impressive achievement it was to build something that could hold a crowd that size comfortably (and safely), while providing all the necessary parking, bathrooms, concession stands and souvenir shops.

Then I remembered that the Circus Maximus in Rome, the chariot track that was the Daytona of 2000 years ago, held a whopping 250,000 people, a quarter of Rome's population. Given the fact that the Romans built it without excavators, dozers, articulated dump trucks, cranes, or diesel power, Daytona all of a sudden looks a lot less impressive.

Roman society was far from perfect, but when it came to infrastructure, the Romans "got it." They understood they needed roads to move their armies quickly from place to place. They knew they needed ports to support the navy, to facilitate commerce, and to import food for Rome's one million citizens. And they recognized that to protect public health, they needed aqueducts to bring fresh water to the city.

Whether America "gets it" when it comes to infrastructure is still an open question. In its report card on America's infrastructure last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave our roads a grade of D and our bridges a C. Our water infrastructure got a dismal D-minus.

ASCE said, "Congested highways, overflowing sewers and corroding bridges are constant reminders of the looming crisis that jeopardizes our nation's prosperity and our quality of life."

But the news isn't all bad. Last year, Congress completed legislation that will provide more than $286 billion for the federal road program through 2009. By the time the next reauthorization rolls around, the federal highway program will be getting $41 billion per year, more than twice what it was getting a decade ago.

Just as important, the new legislation recognizes that current revenue streams are inadequate to provide the highway program the nation really needs and is taking some important steps to identify new funding sources to pay for a bigger highway program down the road.

Where we've really fallen down as a nation is in the area of water infrastructure. Federal water programs receive less than $2 billion per year in funding from the federal government despite estimates of a $500 billion drinking water and sewer system investment shortfall over the next two decades.

What's worse, federal funding for water programs has been cut in each of the last two years and it's set to lose again this year. This lack of focus threatens to undermine public health, stunt community growth, and impose a massive, unfunded mandate on states obliged to comply with federal water quality standards.

We think the time has come for a renewed commitment to federal water programs, and in 2006, AED will partner with the National Utility Contractors Association, Associated Equipment Manufacturers, and other groups to develop a national public relations campaign on the subject.

The goal is to raise public awareness about the nation's water infrastructure investment crisis. Our hope is that, given time, we can create enough of a buzz about the shoddy state of water and sewer systems outside the Beltway that Congress will be forced to act.

During the period of the Roman Empire, the power of government was concentrated almost exclusively in a single person. By contrast, the power of government in the United States is vested in the hands of the people. In America, the citizens tell lawmakers what to do, not the other way around. That's why our new public relations initiative is so important.

Put simply, if our elected officials won't decide to make water investment a priority, it's up to us to make the decision for them.

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Article Categories:  Public Policy