Strategic Investments in Infrastructure: A Reaction to President Obama’s Jacksonville Speech

In his speech today from Jacksonville, FL, President Obama called again for an increase in infrastructure investment in order to modernize our ports, roads and rail and create jobs.  In our recent paper, “Setting Priorities, Meeting Needs: The Case for a National Infrastructure Bank,” we laid out the argument for the creation of an infrastructure bank that would leverage private money to meet public needs and would allow us to invest in much needed upgrades to our aging infrastructure.

The choice of Jacksonville to give this speech allowed the president to highlight the potential of public-private partnerships in infrastructure investment. The port of Jacksonville received $10 million in federal funding in 2011 to help complete an intermodal container facility. The federal support helped to close the gap in funding for the $45 million project. Unfortunately, however, the news is not all good, as the president conceded. Jacksonville is not prepared, nor are any other ports in the U.S. save Norfolk, VA, to accept the new “supertankers” that will begin to pass through the Panama Canal once its expansion is complete in 2014. The president emphasized the regional economic gains that come from increased capacity, but stated, “If we want to compete, our ports have to be ready,” and he urged Congress to join him in making infrastructure investment a priority. Strong infrastructure, the president said, is a “key ingredient to a thriving economy.”  Infrastructure projects create good middle class jobs, and intermodal facilities such as those at the port of Jacksonville spur economic growth.

Yes, public coffers are strained at the federal and state levels, but by neglecting to invest in our infrastructure we would be undermining our future competitiveness. We must find more effective and efficient ways of using public resources to catalyze private investment.  A National Infrastructure Bank would do just that, encouraging private investments in our nation’s infrastructure without putting undue pressure on strained public budgets.

President Obama is right to call for increased investments in needed upgrades, and the Congress should consider one of the numerous bills that have proposed an infrastructure bank to help support those costs. It would help to create good jobs now and make us a more competitive nation in the future–just the combination our economy needs.