Smart infrastructure planning is crucial to success

Recent headlines suggest that a renewed urgency in infrastructure investment and planning will be one of the central pillars of a plan to stimulate the state and national economies. Last month, California Gov. Schwarzenegger along with governors from around the country made their case to President Obama for a $136 billion infrastructure investment program that aims to improve the country’s decaying bridges, roads, and rail lines, while jumpstarting job creation and the economy.

The ultimate content of an economic stimulus plan may not be known for weeks, but it seems likely to include some form of infrastructure investment package. This pending wave of infrastructure investment in California and the rest of the country represents an incredible opportunity to not only help the ailing economy, but plan now for the demands of future growth.

Smart infrastructure planning can help create well-designed communities that offer better choices for where and how people work, live and play.

Just as the infrastructure investment decisions made decades ago paved the way for sprawl and transportation patterns that are heavily dependent on driving, effective infrastructure planning and funding today can be used strategically to help thwart sprawl and encourage more sustainable transportation patterns. Effective infrastructure decisions must take into consideration California’s adopted principles for smart growth, environmental quality, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

For example, Californians last November voted to approve a bond issue for the nation’s first high-speed rail system, which would initially connect Anaheim, Los Angeles, Fresno and San Francisco, and eventually link to Sacramento and San Diego. At a state-wide level, this ambitious project can serve as a catalyst for more sustainable growth and the economy.

The high-speed train system aligns with California’s adopted smart growth principles. According to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, all the high-speed train stations will be multi-modal transportation hubs that will stimulate infill development and link directly to local and regional transit systems, airports, and highways. This will spur more transit-oriented development along the high-speed rail route, which will create viable alternatives to driving.

In addition to creating new transportation patterns, the high-speed rail system will stimulate economic growth directly through the creation of nearly 160,000 construction-related jobs and indirectly through the business opportunities created around the transportation hubs along its route.

At a more local level, there are several examples in the Sacramento area of the type of smart infrastructure planning that should be encouraged.

While flood control planning may not be top-of-mind in terms of infrastructure investment that can help create sustainable, well-designed communities, the City of West Sacramento is assessing the costs of future levee improvements and flood protection that would enable the potential redevelopment of the Stone Lock area along the ship canal and the Sacramento River.

The investment in flood protection for the area would help lay the foundation for a proposed mixed-use, waterfront development that would include shopping, entertainment, homes, parks, museums, and open space in a setting that encourages public transit and walking. By investing in the flood control infrastructure necessary to make this project a reality, this new development would be possible in an area that is close to downtown Sacramento, providing an alternative to sprawl development elsewhere in the area and encouraging economic growth.

Similarly, the proposed Railyards redevelopment project located between downtown Sacramento and the Sacramento River aims to turn the old Southern Pacific railyards into a mixed-use community that will extend and complement downtown Sacramento. However, the project requires investment in infrastructure work that includes moving existing rail tracks north to allow the relocation of the Sacramento Amtrak terminal and its transformation into a multi-modal transit terminal, new sewer and water lines, as well as new roads. Again, a smart investment in infrastructure can help provide an alternative to sprawl-driven growth, promote infill development, mixed-uses, and walkable communities while encouraging additional economic investment.

California has a great opportunity to make good investments that will set the stage for future achievement once this economic mess has passed. Like the past infrastructure planning that established the blueprint for California’s economic growth for more than 40 years, smart infrastructure planning and funding decisions now can create a new paradigm for growth across the state and here in Sacramento that leads to a more sustainable future.

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