Hillary Clinton photo

Remarks on Infrastructure

August 08, 2007

I'm honored to have the keychain – actually the keychain is pretty useful. I will be a proud user of that. And I'm very grateful to the Mayor and I appreciated his comments because I think what he said really set the stage for what I want to talk to you about this morning. It is a problem that has literally affected our entire country

Of course we were watching the news this past week with a heavy heart at the sight of that broken bridge and those submerged cars and the grieving families and the heroic rescue and recovery efforts that are still ongoing. And I know that our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who was touched by this terrible accident.

There may be nothing that we individually can do to try ease the pain and the difficulties that the bridge collapsing has caused the people of the Twin Cities area, but there is a great deal we can do as a nation to ensure that accidents like that don't happen in New Hampshire and across America.

This is a real wake up call. And over the last two years the Mississippi River, that great river that goes down the middle of our country, first at its mouth, has reminded us of the importance of infrastructure with the collapse of the levies during Katrina, and now at the near beginnings of the river, we've been reminded once again – we face an infrastructure crisis.

I've been talking about and worrying about and working on infrastructure as a Senator from New York for the past six and half years. It's not a subject that usually gets headlines. People know we have problems, but there's always something that seems more pressing for us to deal with. And as the Mayor was so rightly saying, there are problems right here in Rochester, there are problems throughout the state like there are in every other state. But unless it's a crisis, we don't really pay attention.

Well my point today is – it is a crisis. It's a silent crisis. It's a crisis with the potential of not only death and injury, property loss and other kinds of dangers and inconveniences, but it is imperative that we address this crisis for our economy and for the kind country we want to be in the 21st Century.

Every day, millions of Americans inch their way through bumper-to-bumper traffic. They drive over structurally deficient bridges. Millions board buses and subways which the federal Department of Transportation has deemed poor, substandard, or merely adequate. We get water from aging water pipes – some of the pipes in New York are over 100 years old, and because of the leaks the inevitably come from corrosion and other problems, they waste a billion, a billion and more gallons of water each month. They potentially expose our water – and I have to say New York City is consistently ranked among the very best in public water, so New York City does a great job. But any water system that has been there a long time, or hasn't been maintained, has the potential of exposing us to chemicals and toxins.

And every single hour, our goods are shipped on under-serviced, overburdened railways. We've had a rash of railway accidents in New York that I have followed very closely and worked both with the state and with the railroad companies to try and remedy. But derailments are becoming more and more common. Goods travel through unprotected, overcrowded seaports or through waterways filled with broken locks.

And we know all too well that the results can be tragic. Not only bridge collapse in Minneapolis and the levies collapse in New Orleans, but the collapse of the Big Dig tunnel ceiling, and the highway overpass that collapsed last week in California. This is a wake up call that is screaming. It's like when you have an alarm clock and it gets increasingly louder because we don't want to hear it or we hit it because we want to get a few more minutes of sleep. Well we've been asleep. And certainly what happened with Katrina – which was a natural disaster that turned into a national disgrace and became international embarrassment and cost nearly 1,700 of our fellow citizens their lives, was the loudest of all wake up all calls.

And keep in mind, the bridge in Minnesota, that the Mayor use to live near, was one of nearly 600,000 bridges across America -- more than 60,000 of those bridges are in need of serious repair.

Something is very wrong when, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, in the richest country on earth, people are actually nervous about driving over bridges for fear that they might collapse. Or they're worried that their levees might burst, or their highways might buckle.

And the degradation of our infrastructure isn't just a serious threat to our families' safety – it is a threat to our homeland security as well. More than five years after 9/11, we still have not secured our borders, our railways, our mass transit systems, our ports, our chemical plants, our nuclear facilities and more.

And in addition, if we needed even more arguments about why we should act, in addition to threatening our safety and our homeland security – the problems with our infrastructure are also a grave threat to our economy.

Did you know that those hours we spend sitting in traffic cost as much as $170 billion a year in wasted time, fuel, productivity and damage to our environment? Those railroads carry half of all freight not carried by air. Those waterways carry roughly one-sixth of our inter-city freight. And those seaports are our gateway to international trade. When there are shutdowns or delays or a lack of capacity, America's businesses and workers pay the price.

We don't always think about this, but I was listening to an NPR report about the consequences of the collapse in Minneapolis and there was a man who owned a trucking firm and he said the price of everything is going to rise. Because we're going to spend more on fuel, because we have to take detours, and they began to talk about things we don't think about as consequences to the cost of the living and to the economy.

In short, we're trying to run today's economy on yesterday's infrastructure – and we're jeopardizing tomorrow's prosperity. It's like trying to run a company today with typewriters, or mimeograph machines or rotary phones. If you're lucky, you might break even – but you sure don't expect to break much of a profit.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our dams a D, our power grid a D, our drinking water systems a D-, our roads a D. I have to ask, do you really think America is really a country that is satisfied with Ds on our report card when it comes to infrastructure?

That's not the country I us grew up in, that's not the country I was raised to believe in and it's certainly not the country we want for our children. Here in America, we've never been content to sit back and make do with what worked for our parents and grandparents and our great-grandparents.

When we've caught a glimpse of a new frontier – we've built the infrastructure to reach it. When we've discovered new opportunities – we've built the infrastructure to seize them.

In America, our infrastructure has always been the engine of our aspirations. Think back to the early 1800s. I just visited the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. It was started in 1800 as many of you know. Think about the audacity of this new country deciding they were going to build this shipyard. And they kept at it now for 207 years.

Think about early 1800s in New York, when the Governor of New York – who happened to be named Clinton – I like that too – persuaded the state legislature to construct a 363 mile canal connecting New York City to the West. Now you can imagine that we had a lot of naysayers in the 1800s just like we do today – why are we building it, it costs too much money, it'll never work. If fact, the naysayers deemed the project "Clinton's ditch." But here is what Governor Clinton said, "The city will, in the course of time, become the granary of the world, the emporium of commerce, the seat of manufactures, the focus of great moneyed operations." And he was right. Fifteen years later, the Erie Canal had made New York City America's busiest port.

Think about President Lincoln, who decided to build the transcontinental railroad in the midst of the Civil War. While he struggled to hold North and South together, he has the vision to lay the groundwork to connect East and West. The completion of the railroad reduced coast-to-coast travel time from months to just a week – and settlers flocked to the new frontier.

Or think about President Eisenhower and his belief that, "Our unity as a nation is sustained by free communication of thought and by easy transportation of people and goods." Today, we're still reaping the economic benefits of the interstate highway system he championed.

Now, these leaders and so many others understood that expanding our infrastructure was the key to expanding our economy. They knew we could start all the companies, and manufacture all the products, and grow all the food we wanted – but if we couldn't get the goods to the customers – if we couldn't get the workers to the jobs – the economy would never flourish. And today, that same understanding extends to everything we need to do in both our physical infrastructure and our virtual infrastructure, like expanding broadband the critical worldwide infrastructure of the modern global economy.

Now, we also know that investing in infrastructure creates jobs. The estimates are pretty reliable. For every $1 billion spent on fixing crumbling infrastructure creates nearly 48,000 jobs.

But instead of investing in the infrastructure of the future and growing our economy, we continue to make do. We patch and repair. We ignore the advice of our engineers, economists, businesses, unions, community leaders. We try to build our children's future with our grandparents' infrastructure. And we are falling further and further behind.

We don't need any more warnings. We don't need any more wakeup calls. It is time to stop wringing our hands – and start rolling up our sleeves and rebuild America.

It's time to stop asking how we can afford to fix our infrastructure – and start asking how we can afford not to. It's time to ask ourselves, what if we could shave minutes – even hours – off our commutes? What if we could shave hours – even days – off our shipping times? What if our ports could send and receive tons of additional goods each week, safely? What if we had public transit system and a rail system that dramatically reduced our reliance on foreign oil, and our carbon dioxide emissions, and our smog and air pollution?

Well, I'm here today because I believe we can do all of these things. I consider myself a modern American progressive. And in the spirit of those early progressives – who were Republicans as well as Democrats, who I think put country before party, who made commitments to bring us together and work side by side – I think we can do this. And that's why I have been working as a Senator and why I think it's imperative to make this a priority for my presidency.

You know I've co-sponsored, on a bipartisan, the National Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2006 with my colleague, Senator Voinovich from Ohio. This Act, because we couldn't get the kind of program we wanted, we set up a commission to ensure we got the data that would provide the basis for Congress asking, with a new president who actually cared about our infrastructure. We want to know, can our infrastructure sustain economic growth for the twenty-first century? We don't think so. How do we get adequate funding? Obviously that's big unanswered question. How do we develop comprehensive recommendations – that instead of divvying up the money on political pork barrel spending, we do it on the basis of a real plan for America. This legislation has passed the Senate, I'm hopeful that it will pass the House and I'm hopeful the President will sign it because that will give me the basis for what I want to do as president.

I want to set big goals as your president. Big goals, like universal health care, quality, affordable healthcare. I want to set a triple goal of moving us toward energy security and independence, dealing with global warming, and creating lots of jobs from dealing with energy and global warming. I want to end the Iraq war and bring that money home. And in addition to all the other goals on education, and stem cell research and reforming our government, I want to make modernizing our nation's infrastructure, as the backbone of our prosperity, one of my goals as well.

You know, every generation faces tough challenges and they require tough choices. We talk about the Greatest Generation of my father, my late father, because they survived the Depression, they fought and kept our country going during World War II, and they deserve our thanks. But at the very same time they were making commitments to a country that they believed in. And we have to ask ourselves, what commitments have we made? What have we done to sacrifice and share a burden that I think should be the responsibility of each American generation?

The reality is that with what we've seen in Minneapolis and New Orleans it's hard to answer that question. That is why I'm going to challenge us, our generation and all of American, to stand up and fix our country - to rebuild the failing infrastructure of the 20th century while we build the new digital and energy infrastructure of the 21st century.

It's going to take serious resources and a serious national commitment. It's going to take a national partnership among all levels of government and between the public and the private sector.

It requires a smart, comprehensive plan. And it requires that we deal not only with repairing and expanding our infrastructure, but solving the problems that are created by infrastructure – you know, congestion, urban sprawl, environmental degradation.

And that is what I want to talk with you about. My Rebuild America Plan – which will create millions of good new jobs, elevate our standard of living, and enhance our ability to compete in the world marketplace.

I start with three emergency initiatives to help states and localities immediately review and repair critical infrastructure.

And we've got to have the federal government at the table. I think we should provide $250 million in "Emergency Assessment Grants" so that state cans pull together the information that is there, conduct any new assessments and inspections that they need to and give grants to prioritize what things they have to do and in what order. You know if everything's a priority, nothing gets done. If you set priorities, you can begin to assess them right away.

At the same time, I'll invest $10 billion over ten years in an "Emergency Repair Fund" to begin addressing the extensive backlog of emergency infrastructure repairs. Right now, 13% of our bridges are "functionally obsolete" -- meaning that they don't meet current transportation standards, they could go any time. Another 12% are "structurally deficient" – including that bridge in Minnesota – meaning they're deteriorating and losing the capacity to sustain their loads. Right here in New Hampshire, 446 of the 3,699 non-covered state and local bridges are on the "red list." That means they're bridges of greatest concern. That includes the Memorial Bridge, which I just saw for myself today.

In addition, today, nearly half the locks on our waterways are obsolete – that's a figure that if we do nothing could rise to 80% within the next 15 years.

It's time that the federal commitment stepped up and addressed these deficiencies. Now, states are already spending money on these projects. The federal government is also, but together, we're not spending enough. My fund will supplement what they're already doing. We know states, as the Mayor alluded to, sometimes put off even starting certain repairs because they don't know where the money will come from to finish the repairs.

One of the problems with the federal government is that we don't have a capital budget. That means we don't budget smartly for long-term capital projects. If you're going to fix the levees in New Orleans you've got know that's going to take a couple of years. If you're going to fix a lot of our infrastructure that's an investment you don't get done in one year but the way that our federal budget runs, we budget every year. And that is just a really foolish way if you're talking about getting the biggest return on your dollar. That's something that I will raise with the Congress. We've tried it before. They aren't likely to respond very favorably because every year they get to make these decisions but we need a capital budget. That would help us set priorities for some very big projects and then see them through. I also believe it would save us money. Because if we could actually plan for three to five years, we would have a much better way of controlling costs. So I hope that we'll consider that.

But, my Emergency Repair Fund will give states the predictability to get certain projects underway and then we can allocate over time and people shouldn't have to worry about that.

We also need to upgrade the standards. That's why National Academy of Engineering and the National Institute of Standards and Technology will be the institutions I ask to give me answers to two critical questions.

One: I want them to review the safety certification process and standards currently in place. Those standards may not be rigorous enough for heavy trucks or for increased traffic. You know when some of these bridges were built in the 1960s the projections for traffic and weight on them didn't take into account what are now doing, 40 or 50 years later.

Two: We've got to set that priority list. And I want an independent group to do that. My second point in my plan to rebuild America involves investing an additional $1 billion in our intercity passenger rail system, which carries 23 million passengers a year, links more than 500 communities, connects communities with airports, city bus systems, providing additional convenience for passengers. And with gas price very unpredictable and traffic worse than ever, airline travel riddled with overbooking, overcrowding and delays – train travel is actually becoming increasingly appealing.

But there's very little federal funding for these rail systems. They treat them as primarily a state responsibility and I think that's the wrong approach. Train travel protects our environment. It reduces our dependence on foreign oil and helps alleviate congestion. One of the reasons that some of the Asian countries and some of the European countries are really make progress against us economically is that they have heavy investments in trains. And those trains are high-speed trains. They move quickly both people and goods and this should be a national priority.

Third, I think we also need to more to build up our intra-city transportation systems – the subways and buses that comprise our public transit systems.

In 2006, Americans took more than 10 billion trips on local public transportation. And those systems serve as a lifeline for so many low and middle-income Americans and for many senior citizens who are no longer able to drive.

Public transportation is also one of the best strategies for protecting the environment. Believe it or not, emissions from road vehicles accounted for more than 50% of air pollution in America. If we just increased our public transportation from 5% to 10%, we'd reduce our reliance on foreign oil by roughly 40%, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25%, and reduce smog-causing nitrogen oxide emissions by about one third.

But despite the benefits of public transit, today, 84% of public transit spending goes toward maintaining existing capacity – only just 16% toward expanding our systems. I want to change that ratio. So I want to increase federal funding for public transit by $1.5 billion a year.

I want to get those funds to communities committed to using them effectively – communities committed to avoiding sprawl by locating homes, jobs and stores nearby, reducing the need for unnecessary car trips. Over the next 25 years, many of the buildings in which we live, work, and shop will be built or rebuilt. So today, we have a unique opportunity to encourage sustainable development.

Fourth, I want to work with state and local governments and the private sector to create a national policy to modernize our seaports. You know this is something sort of out of sight of mind. If you're not in a coastal state like New Hampshire or New York, you don't think about seaports as much as we should. Twenty six percent of our Gross Domestic Product – and a growing share goes through our seaports.

1980, United States ports handled just 8 million containers – by 2006, it was up to 40 million. By 2020 we expect it to be 120 million. The ports simply are just not keeping up. Many are running out of space. They are plagued by navigation channels that are too narrow, or harbors that are too shallow to accommodate larger ships. They don't have modern technology including, homeland security technology, yet there is not one, single federal agency responsible for our ports. So while ports are of national economic significance, responsibility for port funding has fallen primarily to state and local governments.

That's why, we need to bring out ports into the 21st Century and work with our state and local governments, but have the federal government provide support to upgrade technology, expand capacity and reduce congestion.

Fifth, I will want to make it a national priority to confront the growing national problem of congestion. You know, right now, traffic has pretty much taken its place alongside death and taxes as one of those things you just can't avoid.

And between 1993 and 2003, the amount of time Americans spent in traffic delays increased more than 50% – and gallons of fuel wasted increased nearly 80%. If current trends continue, by 2013, moderately dense areas will experience the same kind of traffic problems we see in gridlock in New York City or Chicago or LA.

And the rise of communities that are further and further away means longer commutes. And when you think about wit the Internet we need to be figuring out how to promote more telecommuting. I think we should of course increase what we do to be smart about congestion, but why can't we be smart about giving more people the opportunity to work from home? Especially mothers who are balancing family and work – because right now we have good evidence that it's actually good for productivity but there's a reluctance to do it. That's true in government, that's true in the private sector and I think we need to support initiatives that promote telecommuting. Maybe not five days a week, maybe three days a week but anything we can do to try to limit the traffic congestion actually increases productivity and helps our environment.

I think that when we look at technology we don't realize that today we can collect real-time information on road and travel conditions and we can actually detect traffic density and adjust their traffic signals and post the information on electronic road signs to warn drivers of congestion ahead.

We can have more efficient electronic toll systems, and make sure that we have a good camera system high-traffic areas to monitor accidents and speed the deployment of ambulances and tow trucks.

San Diego even has reversible toll lanes, so when traffic is much heavier in one direction than another, they can reverse a lane and ease the congestion. So let's use technology as our friend to get us out of these traffic jams that so many of us experience.

And sixth, we need to make a serious commitment to modernizing our electric power system. The average power generating station in our country was built in the 1960s. Today, interruptions – some of which are big enough that they really shut everything done, some of which are just sporadic and happen in certain areas – but interruption in our supply of electricity cost us roughly $150 billion a year. And yet, the electric industry devotes fewer dollars to research and development than the dog food industry.

We had a brown out in Queens. No body could figure what had happened. And it really interfered with a lot of people who lived in apartments with no operating elevator once the electricity went out. It really put a great burden on a lot of elderly people. A lot of small businesses lost refrigeration – floral shops, ice cream shops. And I went to visit some of my constituents to figure out what we were going to do about it and I was standing outside of a little restaurant that has lost thousands of dollars worth of food because of the shut down, and a gentleman came up to me and introduced himself. And he said to me, Senator, I am from India. I never thought I would move to the United States and see electricity disruptions. And it really struck me. Because we think of ourselves of being so far advanced of any other country, and yet we're not keeping that advantage.

I think we can do better. That's why I sponsored the Electric Reliability Act which has been signed into law, helping to give our federal government more authority to make our electricity system more reliable. This is a disaster waiting to happen. We've got an outdated grid. An outdated transmission and distribution system. Nobody is responsible for investing in it and it is the lifeblood of how we power our economy.

Seventh, we need to dramatically increase our investments in broadband deployment. Back in 2001, America was fourth in the world in broadband access. Today, we're 25th. Other countries are investing heavily in broadband to connect up their entire country.

And I've have seen the power of broadband firsthand. In New York, we started a program where we brought together leaders from the business, non-profit, university, banking, and computer technology communities – including E-Bay -- to give local businesses the capital and technical assistance they needed to expand onto the Internet. I did this because, any of you who have been up in the Adirondacks up in northern New York know how beautiful it is, but we have a lot people who can't make a very good living because they don't have big market for their goods. And so we worked to put them on E-Bay and we proved that we could take somebody who was making fishing rods in northern New York, or making soap, and give them a global market place.

Now, I believe in markets – 100%. Markets are one of the great advantages we have for making our economy dynamic. But when the market isn't working – when the companies are not wiring certain areas – either underserved urban areas or underserved rural areas - then the federal government has to step in with planning grants, and equipment grants, and tax incentives. That's what we had here with electricity. Utilities didn't think it was possible to extend electricity to certain parts of our country. And so the federal government had to step in. And I think if we focus on expanding broadband and I've recently called for an innovation agenda to support state and local communities to expand and develop broadband, then we know we can make progress because information highways are to the 21st what canals and railroads were to the 19th century and interstate highways in the 20th.

Eighth, and finally, we don't just need to build the broadband and electrical infrastructure of the 21st century – we need to build the clean energy infrastructure as well. That's why I've proposed creating a "Green Buildings Fund" – a $1 billion investment in grants and low interest loans to states to improve energy efficiency in buildings. It'll help us cut pollution, combat climate change, and create thousands of jobs – what we can call "green collar jobs." I've sponsored legislation with my colleague, Senator Sanders of Vermont, because we want to train people to do these jobs.

Investing in energy efficient infrastructure is one of the cheapest, cleanest, fastest ways we know to cut energy use and reduce emissions. In fact, the Department of Energy estimates that energy efficiency along, could cut national energy use by 20 percent in 20 years. It's a no-brainer – which is slightly higher standard than the current one we have Washington.

This is an issue whose time has come. And I'm proud to co-sponsor Senator Dodd and Senator Hagel's National Infrastructure Bank Act that we just introduced to establish a federally-backed independent bank that will evaluate and finance large infrastructure projects by subsidies, loan guarantees, and bonds backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.

That's what our competitors are doing. They are on the march. You know Japan, and China, and even India, and certainly Europe, they are making progress and we are treading water and being swept backwards.

Now, will all this be easy? Of course not. But I believe that it is imperative and it is truly one of the challenges that it is going to determine whether we're up to the task of remaining a great nation with the strongest middle class in the history of the world, and a rising standard of living and quality of life.

I have faith that we will answer the call. A country that dug a 363 mile canal, by hand with only the help of mules– that built a railroad from one coast to the other – that connected communities across America with more than 45,000 miles of highway – that sent a man to the moon – that's who we are as Americans. You know, one of the most discouraging aspects of the Bush-Cheney Administration is the way they have talked down America. They have been fatalistic. I reject that out of hand. We can do whatever we set our minds to. We can roll up our sleeves. We can be problem solvers again. And I have faith that we will answer that call. With your help we will rebuild America

Thank you very much.

Hillary Clinton, Remarks on Infrastructure Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/277593

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