January 5, 2012
As the Panama Canal nears expansion and ports up and down the East Coast compete for dollars, the city's infrastructure and business potential were the focus of a panel discussion this morning.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, co-chair of Building America's Future Educational Fund, joined officials from Jaxport, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority and CSX at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront to discuss what needs to be done to make the First Coast more competitive.
Rendell didn't have his sights set on small potatoes.
"We've got to start doing big projects again," he said. "That's what made this nation great."
He offered examples from around the globe to support his claims.
China, Rendell said, "is building infrastructure for the 22nd century, and we still have an infrastructure of the 20th century." He said in that regard, China is "eating our lunch."
He also spoke about America's natural resources.
"We are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas," Rendell said, adding that with a nation-wide distribution system, natural gas could replace diesel fuel at "literally half the cost."
Rendell called for not only a national energy bill and a national infrastructure bill, but he also said such projects need to be expedited.
Large-scale projects, he said, take too long to complete. One reason Rendell cited was environmental impact statements, which he said are necessary, but could be done in a handful of months rather than two years.
Rendell cited the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minnesota. It collapsed in 2007, severing a major transportation artery in the area. Because of its importance, Rendell said, the bridge was completely rebuilt within 12 months. Rendell said such a project normally takes three or four years, but the bridge project proves large projects can be completed quicker.
Speed and certainty are two things business owners want from regulations, he asserted.
Rendell also said his organization believes an increase in the gas tax is necessary, saying other nations all over the world have double or triple the gas tax that America has.
Believing now, with a weak economy, is a time when the economy couldn't absorb such a tax increase, Rendell wants the tax to be higher when the economy is stronger.
Even then, however, Rendell said, it's still a short-term solution to the country's infrastructure problem, saying long-term solutions will have to be different than gasoline.
Rendell concluded also that politics have gotten in the way of the best interest of the country.
"Forget about this fear of investing dollars in things that will lead to our growth," Rendell offered as a solution.