Blueprint America – PBS Reports On The Infrastructure Crisis

Coverage… has anything ever been covered as extensively as the stimulus bill, our failing economy and the efforts being made to restore it and our crumbling infrastructure? Probably not. We are definitely living in the information age and getting bombarded from every angle – newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, television, the internet and every variety of communication device it has to offer. Are we being blogged to death? Are we being over-stimulated? Could we be suffering from information overload?

Maybe the answer to all these rhetorical questions is a resounding yes; but reality dictates a strong, firm emphatic NO!

We need to keep our finger on the economic pulse of the country and this information is the best heart monitor we have.

To help keep us informed, PBS has created Blueprint America a precedent-setting multi-platform initiative — developed and produced by Thirteen/WNET, and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation — that will harness the power of public broadcasting’s most prestigious programs, primetime documentaries, community and educational outreach, and the web to focus on one of the most critical issues facing our country, yet one that has been under-reported until recently by the traditional news media: America’s decaying and neglected infrastructure. We hear about infrastructure only when it results in a catastrophic bridge collapse or levee failure, but in fact, it is placing our quality of life and our ability to compete in a global economy at risk.

The rusting bridges, overcrowded airports, traffic jams, choked tanker terminals, lack of public transportation and water shortages that so many of us experience are just the most visible symbols of neglect, but the issues run deeper. They are more than an inconvenience to us; in an era of climate change and $5 per gallon gasoline, they are a wake-up call about our nation’s ability to face the social, economic and environmental challenges of the future. They also represent the urgency to find new, bipartisan creative policy and funding solutions. And as the nation has voted on a new President and Congress, the need is underscored for a coherent, shared vision of how our country will begin to address the problems of growth and the sustainability of our standard of living.

The costs of repairing years of neglect and under funding are staggering. Although it is estimated by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) that the price tag will escalate to more than $2.2 trillion dollars over the next five years, I have to wonder if Blueprint America’s content will challenge all of us with the question: “what are the economic and social costs of doing nothing?”

Over the next year, the Blueprint America team at Thirteen/WNET has created a unique portfolio of programming on this critical subject, including:

• Individual reports produced in partnership with: The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, NOW on PBS, and Worldfocus, as well as public radio, on the topic of America’s infrastructure

• Original, high profile documentaries produced for national broadcast on PBS

• Educational and community outreach to integrate, study and debate on this subject into schools and community groups

• An interactive website that will serve as a platform for debate and “virtual meetinghouse” for citizens to share stories, videos and information concerning infrastructure in their cities and towns

Phase I, which ran from August through November last year, focused on the goal of creating debate and awareness of our neglected infrastructure during the all-important election cycle.

Phase II is planned for early 2009, as President Obama begins setting our nation’s agenda in his first 100 days, and a new Congress begins to tackle its first legislative challenges. At the recent National Governors Association 2009 Winter Meeting in Washington, DC, Robert MacNeil, founder and former co-anchor of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, moderated a discussion focused on balancing a federal infrastructure policy with energy, environmental, and economic priorities. Gov. Ed Rendell, Democrat of Pennsylvania, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican of California, joined Jay Etta Hecker, former GAO Director of Physical Infrastructure; and Douglas Foy, former Secretary of Commonwealth Development for Massachusetts to discuss this.

Phase III is being planned for the summer of 2009 as Congress begins to debate America’s all-important transportation bill that will set our infrastructure priorities for years to come. The last time Congress tackled this job, it ended up taking 2.5 years to get it through… and the $286 billion price tag was loaded with earmarks and “special projects” in the home states of some key lawmakers. Programs will focus on the political process, but also present bold visions and solutions for the future.

Notice the addition of the Blueprint America widget in the sidebar. We are providing it for your convenience. It will have schedule times and programming notices.

If you’ve been following regularly, you have probably noticed that we have covered and discussed these topics fiercely and frequently. Our infrastructure is the economic commercial lifeline of this country. Like the arteries in your body, if they are loaded with problems you can be certain of only one thing, tragic results. For years the transportation industry has been warning us that our infrastructure was in need, congress did not heed. The result, today’s economic situation…

Greg Sitek

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