Don't get me wrong. I like roads. They are necessary and proper and a good thing for our state and nation to build and maintain.
The problem I have is that they are not inspiring. The same can be said for water and sewer, home weatherization and most other infrastructure projects. We need 'em but they just don't turn us on.
This is why the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka the Stimulus Package) is getting so much flack. People see the price tag - $787 billion - and have reasonable doubts about the wisdom of it all. I suggest that ARRA, despite its hundreds and thousands of projects and programs across the nation, is largely invisible.
This massive spending has been broken down into so many small parts that we truly cannot see the transformation on a national scale. The $2.9 million for the Huntington-Cleveland salinity reduction project, the $2 million for Carbonville Road, the $34,600 for Helper police gear are simply not network-worthy news.
In a day and age of media punditry and a screaming need to fill network video and the blogosphere 24/7, this is a formula for disaster.
What we needed - and what we still need - is some focal project that will attract some big-time attention and national pride the way NASA did during the 1960s. We needed - and we still need - something on the order of John Kennedy's assurance that this country could and would put a man on the moon by 1970.
America did it with six months to spare. But the moon landing in 1969 was just the attention-getter for the whole space program. We've also gotten a global communication network, satellite weather, satellite surveying, spy satellites, and an army of orbiting gear that lets us peer more deeply into the universe and see our own planet more clearly.
We can debate what this new project should be. My own favorite is energy independence. That includes but goes beyond "drill baby drill." It seems only reasonable to assume that as world population grows and the former "Third World" industrializes, the demand for fossil fuels is going to escalate. That's going to jack up the world price of oil, which, in case you haven't noticed, shows up at our gas pumps regardless of where our oil originated.
It also makes us dependent on parts of the world where we would rather not be involved.
I would argue that it is a necessary function of government to provide a sense of national involvement in energy independence and to provide tax incentives or contracts for the technologies that will get us there. Clean coal, nuclear power, better batteries, high-speed rail and more efficient solar are all waiting to happen.
A stimulus type injection would help it to happen.