- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2008

Every hundred years the nation’s greatest leaders develop a … national infrastructure plan?

It likely is not the edgiest manifesto to cross President-elect Barack Obama’s desk - discussing the nuts and bolts of transportation, energy and water infrastructure.

But some of the nation’s top planners say the hundreds of billions of dollars Democrats plan to spend in an economic-stimulus bill could be wasted without coordination, forethought and oversight.

The leaders of America 2050, a national initiative on infrastructure and economic planning, pull from American history books in justifying the need for a long-term plan to guide stimulus spending: Thomas Jefferson adopted a long-range plan to construct canals and a rudimentary road system in 1808, five years after he signed the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the country. One hundred years later, Teddy Roosevelt convened a Conference of Governors to preserve the nation’s forests and natural resources.

“There’s been this tradition of long-range thinking,” said Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Planning Association in New York and an America 2050 co-chairman. “We haven’t had a real game plan for big infrastructure projects since the Interstate Highway system was built,” starting in the 1950s.

Mr. Yaro and 25 other planners, engineers and transportation officials sent a letter to Mr. Obama asking that he adopt their broad goals to spend what could easily top $850 billion:

• Fix the nation’s existing infrastructure and put people to work immediately.

• Phase in strategic projects while evaluating the initial expenditures.

• Support “green” projects to establish energy independence and reduce pollution.

• Fund job-training programs for Americans to fill the new jobs.

• Review the results and decide whether the spending was successful.

Democratic leaders in Washington are widely expected to pass an economic-stimulus plan early next year to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on public works projects across the nation.

Mr. Yaro and his group have a sympathetic ear in the House: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, lauded long-term planning in an address earlier this year, referring to Jefferson’s and Roosevelt’s planning efforts.

But Mr. Yaro’s efforts come amid a wave of advice and requests for the incoming president and Congress from groups eyeing a stimulus plan that could reach $1 trillion.

Environmental groups are pushing for investments in renewable energy sources and public-building retrofitting, which they say would help create “green-collar jobs.”

Anti-tax crusaders suggest using the money to repeal the corporate income tax to spur business growth and subsequent job creation through the private market.

Despite the crush of voices weighing in on plans for an economic stimulus, Mr. Yaro says there’s room for crossover and a need for unity in the face of competition from rapidly growing cities in China, India and other countries that have invested heavily and rapidly in their infrastructure.

“We’ve got to do some bold things here, or we’re going to get run over by the competition,” Mr. Yaro said in an interview last week.

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