Get engaged. Get outraged.
I just got back from ENR New York's "Where's the Money?" half-day conference, featuring a slew of transportation leaders and experts. All were compelling, but my favorite was David Tweedy, chief of capital planning for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Tweedy asked the audience, "Raise your hand if you DON'T know what 'the 99%' refers to." No hands were raised. He had made his point. "Occupy Wall Street protestors have captured the national dialogue," he said. But that's without even having a coherent solution to the problem.
Infrastructure builders do have solutions, he noted. I agree. We know that construction projects done in the right way, in the right places for the right reasons, create short- and long-term jobs. We know that public-private partnerships, TIFIA loans, design-build, innovative materials, all sorts of mechanisms can make better project delivery possible.
But we don't have the spirit, he added. He pointed to former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, long a vocal infrastructure advocate. "He's fighting mad," said Tweedy. "We need to clone and replicate that energy...but we're too polite. We're not mad enough, folks."
"We have Grover Norquist telling us that all taxes are by their very nature evil. But nobody is saying that to allow a bridge to fall down is even more evil."
I had spoken myself at the Greater Baltimore Committee a few weeks ago at a conference with essentially the same theme as ENR New York's. I too exhorted transportation builders to emulate a group that went from being fringe to capturing the national ear—not OWS, which hadn't happened yet, but the Tea Party.
"We can't just keep preaching to each other's choir at these events," I said.
You know those annoying ads that scroll down your webpage or pop up before you can read an article? Well, looking at it from the media perspective, I have to say they do the job. They capture your attention. Why not buy such an ad, I suggested, that shows real footage of a bridge collapsing?
Shock and sensationalism tactics? Sure. But in this country, saturated with non-stop images, messages, updates and chatter, that's what it takes to call attention to a crisis. And the state of our infrastructure is pretty critical.
Note: In an earlier version, I gave the wrong first name for Norquist. That's my bad, not Tweedy's.