Washington state bridge collapse brings attention to California’s infrastructure

150 150 Ed Coghlan

(Photo Credit: Joey Rozier)

Here we go again—a national headline stirs up the debate. How many more bridges need to collapse? How many more people hurt or deeply inconvenienced because a major road buckles or a water main breaks and causes a sinkhole? How much more money needs to be drained on fixing these basic infrastructure needs before it becomes the top concern of all policies and talks?

It’s a conversation worth having and it’s going on right now here in California-as attention has been turned, once again, to our crumbling, aging infrastructure.

The collapse of a bridge in Washington state last week will wreak havoc in the Interstate 5 corridor north of Seattle for at least a month. Right here in California, a water main break in the city of Murrieta created a 20-foot sinkhole, caused businesses to close and will cost $250,000 to repair.

So, how big is the problem in California? By any measure, it’s huge.

We reported last week that the California Transportation Commission estimates it will take $300 billion to get existing transportation infrastructure up-to-date and to meet our future needs. And that doesn’t take into account other infrastructure needs like water, energy grid and ports. The Nicholas Berggruen Institute puts the infrastructure deficit over the next 10 years at a whopping $765 billion.

Underfunded and breaking infrastructure is not just inconvenient, like a bridge collapse affecting your commute. It affects the entire economy. Being able to move goods around is vital to economic growth. The big question then becomes what can state and local governments do to pay for these needs in uncertain fiscal times.

That’s why the 2012 California Economic Summit labeled infrastructure financing as a key component of any job creation strategy. This year, maintaining roads, bridges and other infrastructure has been flagged as a top priority by leaders from every region at the 16 Regional Economic Forums taking place now across the state now.

“We must find a way to pay for hundreds of billions in needed maintenance and upgrades to public facilities,” said Bill Hauck, member of California Forward’s Leadership Council and former head of the California Business Roundtable. “The last generation invested heavily in public works that we take for granted. Our universities, highways, and water systems were built in the 1950s and 1960s as an investment for the future.”

“Now it is time for our generation to invest in projects that will enable economic vitality for the next generation,” Hauck added.

Governor Brown will issue his infrastructure plan later on this year, as every California governor does every five years. The Governor has been talking about infrastructure, especially the high-speed rail and Sacramento Delta water tunnel projects. Over the weekend he was quoted in the Sacramento Bee, arguing that “Californians are in a building mood.”

And that’s why the California Economic Summit, a partnership of California Forward and the California Stewardship Network, comes in at the right place, right time. The series of regional forums has been seeking input on the state’s infrastructure strategy. This statewide conversation will come together at the second-annual Summit in Los Angeles on November 7-8.

By the way, if the $700-billion-plus estimate gives your heartburn, think about this: The Urban Land Institute estimates that the global investment will have to exceed $57 trillion in the next two decades. Clearly, there’s some work to get done.


Ed Coghlan

All stories by: Ed Coghlan