Moving Forward Incrementally on Infrastructure

In addressing the 78th annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors yesterday, President Obama laid out some general strategies to “rebuild and revitalize our cities and metropolitan areas.” The frame should not have come as much of a surprise as it builds off the speech the president made to the same group when he was on the campaign trail in the summer of 2008. In that speech he emphasized smart infrastructure investments as ways to “compete and win in our global economy.

While that goal has not changed in the last 18 months, the strategy to get there may have. Despite the shot-in-the-arm that the stimulus package provided last year, there has been no firm commitment made to raising the gas tax to pay for the half-trillion dollar reauthorization proposed by the House, or for an infrastructure-oriented jobs bill the House passed in December.

So the speech to the mayors this week was a little more general in some ways. But he did promise to build on some innovations that show potential such as transit-oriented development, coordinating housing, environmental, and transportation policy at the department level, and building on the TIGER discretionary grant program.

This is certainly not the bold infrastructure vision the president offered to the mayors in 2008 but the incremental programs he promoted this week do represent important–albeit small–steps to building economically competitive, environmentally sustainable, and opportunity-rich communities.