Monday, June 25, 2012

The Policy Debate 2012 Infrastructure Topic - introduction

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States.
This is the first in what should develop into a series of articles on the NFL policy debate topic for 2012 - 2013.  I think most people knowledgeable of the topic would agree that at one time, the U.S. transportation infrastructure was the envy of the world.  This included the fixed resources necessary to support surface transportation including roads, highways, railroads, bridges, tunnels and ancillary systems such as the communications, fueling stations, supply networks, maintenance facilities, rest stops, transportation centers, etc.  It also includes non-surface transportation such as airports, and related support systems and structures and to some degree space transport facilities.  While many of the vehicles and systems (for example commercial rail systems) were privately owned, the U.S.F.G. provided funding, right of ways, and other forms of direct and indirect support for the construction of the systems.

It can be shown, the U.S. transportation system had a substantial positive impact on the economic growth of the country and indeed on the well-being of many other countries around the world.  The transportation system supported the rapid and economical delivery of goods and services across the country and around the world and supported military and defensive objectives as needed.  It can also be shown there has been numerous negative impacts not least of which includes the environmental impacts of the system.  The impact on the energy systems of the earth is also a major concern resulting in questions as to how long we can hope to sustain our present systems even if funding was not a problem.  Further, it can be argued that modern transportation systems which make the "world a smaller place" contributes to the ease which disease and war can spread.

Currently, the once famous U.S. transportation system has fallen onto hard times.  The system requires a massive expenditure to maintain.  The funding comes from many sources, including various use fees, taxes, and other forms of direct and indirect funding by the government.  While some USFG spending for surface transportation is considered discretionary a large percentage of transportation expenditures also fall under the classification of mandatory spending.  The division between discretionary and mandatory spending generally becomes a contentious issue in political debate.  In any case, the transportation infrastructure is beginning to decay since expenditures are not meeting the current requirements to maintain the current system.  A study by the Urban Land Institute estimates $2 trillion is needed over the next five to ten years to restore and modernize the nation's transportation infrastructure.

The current status of the system invites comparison to transportation systems in other countries.  Many reports will claim that our system is "falling behind".  This begs the question what are the criteria for deciding what is the standard of comparison.  Why is one country behind another and what are the impacts?  If we accept that expenditures must be made, one must consider what are the best kinds of transportation infrastructure investments required to carry the U.S. into the next century?  Does it make sense to continue to place sizable premium on surface transportation systems which support internal combustion engines or can existing roads and highways be adapted to support other kinds of vehicles?  Another very important question is why should the government provide the funding and resources in the first place?  We have seen already, that strides are being made to privatize many of the activities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in particular, the transportation of men and materials into space.  Why not other kinds of privatization which reduces the need for government spending to support transportation rather than increases it?

A recent report by the U.S. Treasury Department ( claims that the time to act is now not only because the spending would support long-term business activities but also because short term benefits are realized through increased employment opportunities.  The term "investment" is important because the idea behind investing is to realize a positive return on the expenditure.  To be sure, investments carry a certain risk and do not always result in positive return but it is the responsibility of the investors to ensure the risks are minimized and proper oversight is utilized.  The Treasury report details ways the funding can be realized and reviews proposed investment targets which can help generate a near-term, positive return.

Over the next weeks I will begin to dive into specific topics which could evolve into case ideas for both the Affirmative and Negative.  I am not sure where this may go as I will be developing the case ideas "on the fly" and as independently as possible from other resources such as camps and the opinions of other experts in policy debate.

Check back soon.

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