Improving the US' crumbling infrastructure can aid job creation, improve the flow of goods and services and stimulate the economy, according to California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“Infrastructure itself … that's economic power,” he said while speaking at a panel in front of several thousand delegates gathered at the Milken Institute's annual conference in Los Angeles on Monday.
“Much more needs to be done. We've fallen so far behind,” he said, referencing infrastructure-related tragedies in the US, including a Minneapolis bridge collapse that killed 13 people in August 2007 and levee failures in New Orleans that flooded the city, killing hundreds. “Even developing nations are passing us,” he added.
He also pointed to the country's train networks as another area gravely in need of updating. “There is no reason the US ought to be having a train system that is 100 years old,” he said. “All over the world they're building high-speed rails.”
California is in the midst of pushing for a high speed rail system that would link upstate Sacramento with Los Angeles and San Diego in the south. Last year voters approved nearly $10 billion in general obligation bonding capacity for the project, which is still in development and permitting phase.
He, along with fellow panelist Edward Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania, and Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, joined together last year on an initiative they dubbed 'Building America's Future'. The bi-partisan group has been lobbying the Obama administration to make infrastructure investment a priority in the US’ economic recovery and stimulus measures, Schwarzenegger said. President Obama has an opportunity to build a high-speed rail network in much the same way former president Eisenhower built the US highway system, he added.
Rendell noted that energy infrastructure – “building out the grid” – also ranks very high among the nation's infrastructure needs, which he estimates will cost up to $1.5 trillion over the next five years.
“How are we going to get the money?” he said, explaining that states must find a new way of funding infrastructure projects.
He spoke of the need for federal assistance, possibly in the form of creating infrastructure funds that private investors could also commit to. He also noted there is “certainly a role for public-private-partnerships” given the infrastructure asset class provides “good, stable returns”.