Inviting Utilities to the Public Works Feast

Public Utility Crew Setting a Pole
Public Utility Crew Setting a Pole

Yesterday, while our water crews were repairing a major water main break in our city, I spent some time talking with a guy from our local gas company. He had been sent to the site to watch out for the gas main that was located in the same trench. Our conversation made me realize that something important might be missing from President-elect Obama’s Public Works initiative: the impact this work will have on public utilities owned by non-government entities.

You can all relate to this. How many times does the gas/power/phone/cable have to move their lines or send out crews because we are constructing a project? And how many times do they beg you to let them know about work a year in advance so they can budget for it? And how many times do you wonder about building brand new pavement over gas/power/phone/cable lines that are ancient and prone to malfunction? Now imagine $700 billion worth of work being done in 12 to 18 months time with only a few months notice. You know public utilities have not budgeted for all the relocations and other work that will be necessary to construct $700 billion worth of improvements.

So what is the answer? The public works initiative is a great plan to get America back to work and at the same time rebuild our infrastructure. But we need to remember that public utilities have the potential to be severely impacted by this work. They need to be at the table with us as we move forward. If we don’t address their costs with this stimulus package, these extra costs could be passed onto consumers. Allowing them to access funds will ensure these projects will be done in a timely manner and will put even more people to work. For the public works initiative to be successful, I think we need to move over and get some more chairs.