One of the few things I feel safe predicting about President Obama's first term, once it comes, is that some sort of economic stimulus package will be on the table. Our local leaders think it's likely too, and recognized that Oregon has big needs in a press conference earlier in the week here in Portland.
I'm all for fixing crumbling roads and bridges, and I hope that mass transit is a big part of any stimulus package. But I also hope that we stay true to the state's acknowledged leadership in the sustainable economy and put an equal amount of money and time into green infrastructure as we do into traditional roads and bridges.
For example, why not make Portland--and any other city in Oregon that's up for the challenge--into world-class bike cities, on par with Amsterdam and Copenhagen? This might mean doubling or tripling the numbers of bike lanes, building "bike signals" that are tripped automatically and allow bikers to proceed through an intersection while cars are stopped, adding bike & pedestrian bridges where needed, or even segrating bike lanes on busy streets from car traffic. None of this is easy to do, but if done correctly, research has shown that driving less puts more money into the pockets of local residents, who spend that money locally, directly creating jobs.
Energy efficiency and renewable energy are two other good target areas. I'd love to see a widespread energy efficiency campaign targeting homes and commercial buildings, something like what the Energy Trust of Oregon does now but on a much bigger scale. Energy efficiency inspectors would come to your home and business to tell you what upgrades you'd need to make; federal low-interest loans and federal & state tax credits would help pay for those upgrades. We'd need to employ a lot of energy efficiency inspectors and contractors to get this done, and economic stimulus funds could pay for the program.
And what about a 25,000 or 50,000 solar home program for low-income Oregonians? Particularly on the sunny east side of the mountains, this would make great sense--and really lower electricity bills. This could be a model for the country, similar to what California has done with its Million Solar Roofs effort.
Here on the west side (particularly in Portland) we struggle with stormwater for many months of the year. The City of Portland's Green Streets program provides a great model for another program that could be expanded from public right-of-ways to private homes, businesses, parking lots, etc. This would create more jobs and help cities like Portland deal with polluted waterways (think the Superfund site that is the Willamette River) at the same time. And again, jobs would have to be created to get the work done.
Obviously, I'm not an economist--nor do I play one on TV--but I do believe that green infrastructure ought to be just as important as fixing our roads. And I hope that we fix our roads and bridges in a way that will work in the new economy, where environmental and human health are just as important as moving cars quickly from place to place.