WBJ: A Marshall Plan for Infrastructure
As originally appearing in The Worcester Business Journal

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted not only the physical health of almost 3 million Americans, but our economic well-being. Congress has enacted massive legislative packages to help tackle coronavirus and reinvigorate the economy. More must be done.

One bold step Congress could take already has support from Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill and the White House: a major federal infrastructure package. The New England Council believes a major infrastructure package would provide tremendous benefits to the nation and our region.

As Washington, D.C. considers this, it is important our elected officials take a broad view of what constitutes infrastructure. Traditionally, when we talk about infrastructure, we think transportation, which all would agree needs repairs, upgrades and modernization.

Besides addressing road needs, years of mass transit maintenance backlogs require a substantial investment. Bolstering transit throughout our region will ensure greater access for commuters, decrease congestion, and improve air quality. This holds true for Amtrak, particularly the Northeast Corridor, which must be upgraded. Moreover, Congress should give serious thought to funding regional rail expansion to better connect our region and spark economic development beyond traditional hub centers.

Another traditional infrastructure mode is air travel, which will no doubt rebound and even hit new heights, necessitating airport upgrades and new construction to meet increased passenger loads. Similarly, growth in trade will dictate a need for on-shore facility capabilities and channels to accommodate the vessels bringing goods to and from our ports.

However, as vital as our transportation infrastructure is, it is critical our leaders in Washington take a broader view of what constitutes physical infrastructure.

If the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated one thing, it is hospitals must be considered part of our national infrastructure and funds for the construction and renovation of hospitals are necessary to manage future health crises.

Federal investments for physical and technological infrastructure on higher education campuses as well as for elementary and secondary schools will ensure a modern education system to accommodate all students.

Water infrastructure systems demand constant attention, whether for drinking water or wastewater treatment facilities. Besides the need to meet new requirements for our growing region, aging systems need replacing.

Energy reliability is critical to our economy, and Washington must pursue modernization investments to enable the grid to safely and accommodate new clean energy resources.

Just before the Fourth of July, the House passed legislation addressing a number of these priorities, but more work remains. Congress and the White House have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enact a plan to create jobs, boost the economy, and meet infrastructure needs.

James T. Brett is president & CEO of The New England Council, an alliance of businesses promoting economic growth.

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