Obama on Infrastructure; HSR Projects in UK and CA under Threat

Last night, Rachel Maddow spoke to Senator Barack Obama on MSNBC. The discussion turned almost immediately to infrustructure spending, though the two also talked about Afganistan and other not-as-interesting topics. You can watch the entire interview over at the Huffington Post, but I’ve transcribed the relevant stuff here:

Rachel Maddow: “There may be some policy fights ahead… if we are looking at economic stimulus, is there a possibility that you can see in your first term if you are elected, that we’d need an economic stimulus program that felt to Americans a little bit like a public works program, a little bit like an FDR-style infrastructure building program.”

Barack Obama: “Well I’ve actually talked about this, and I haven’t been hiding the ball on this; I think we have to rebuild our infrastructure. I mean, you look at what China’s doing right now, their trains are faster than us, their ports are better than us. They are preparing for a very competitive 21-st century economy, and we’re not. You know, one of the most frustrating things over the last eight years has been the ability of George Bush to pile up debt and huge deficits and not have anything to show for it, right? So if you’re going to run deficit spending, then it better be in rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our sewer lines, our water systems, laying broadband lines. One of the most important infrastructure projects that we need is a whole new electricity grid because if we’re going to be serious about renewable energy, I want to be able to get wind power from North Dakota to population centers like Chicago. And we’re going to have to have a smart grid if we’re going to have plug-in hybrids, then we want to be able to have ordinary consumers sell back the energy that’s produced by those car batteries back into the grid. That can create five million new jobs, just in new energy, but it’s huge projects that generally speaking you’re not going to have private enterprise want to take all those risks and we’re going to have to be involved in that process.”

Mr. Obama’s opinion on this issue couldn’t be clearer. As we noted yesterday, Democrats in the House and Senate are pushing forward on a massive $100-300 billion infrastructure, and Mr. Obama’s comments on this issue imply that he will push ahead, working to rebuild the nation’s physical plant. His specific note on the speed of Chinese trains implies that, as he’s said in the past, building a high-speed rail network is a major part of his program. Note that the remaking of the power grid that he discusses would be necessary to provide the power for such a system.

But in California, the likely first recipient of such a high-speed rail investment, speculation about voter fears on Prop 1a is rising. In an article in the L.A. Daily News, a pollster from the Field Organization argued that Californians have traditionally voted down large spending bills during recessions, and we most certainly are in the thick of one right now. A Bloomberg News article noted that private polling is suggesting that the measure is facing declining support as the economy continues into its downward spiral. Will this mean that Californians vote down this huge and important project? And will they also decide not to vote for Measure R in Los Angeles, which would raise the sales tax by half a percent to radically improve transit provision in that County? Five more days ’till we find out…

Meanwhile, the fight continues in England about whether to provide an HSR link between London, Birmingham, and Manchester, or whether to invest in a third runway for Heathrow airport. Read commentary in the Financial Times by the Tory Shadow Transport Minister Theresa Villiers here (pro-HSR), and by the Labor Transport Minister Geoff Hoon here (pro-airport expansion).

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