Stimulus Complexities

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | February 2009 Vol. 64 No.2

It’s hard to believe in the future when every day you are told that the future is bleak. At least that’s the story we’re being bombarded with by national media. But the recent strength of the annual Underground Construction Technology International Conference & Exhibition was a refreshing breath of optimism and hope in an otherwise environment of despair.

UCT ran counter to trends and even expectations. Attendance actually rose by almost 11 percent. While attendees were understandably very cautious and nervous about the coming year, most were still working – and expected to stay that way through at least the first half of the year.

Not to minimize the world economic crisis; we all know the litany of problems that have to be dealt with – they are many and severe. But in any type of recession or economic downtown, opportunities also arise. Talk of the various federal stimulus proposals led much of the UCT conversation. Underground Construction’s Washington Editor Stephen Barlas is carefully following the stimulus developments and will continue to report breaking developments in detail.

That a stimulus will happen is a given. The House plan has been released for some time, details of the Obama plan have steadily been emerging and, as of this writing, the Senate plan was due to be released soon. The Republican Party, though in the minority in all branches of government, still yields much influence. But they, too, have expressed support for a major stimulus package.

Preliminary details of the stimulus plans indicate a broad impact for underground infrastructure. Figures vary and final negotiations will determine actual dollars, but it looks like sewer and water could receive between $10 and $12 billion.

But the stimulus doesn’t stop there. Water supply may get $2 or $3 billion. This typically means not only securing future sources of water for municipalities, but constructing pipelines to transport water as well.

The Rural Utilities Service may get $2.5 billion to supply broadband for rural areas and $3 billion has been earmarked to provide broadband to under-served suburban areas.

The power grid, still trying to meet Federal mandates after the Midwest/Northeast power blackouts a few years ago, could receive up to $5 billion to jumpstart those efforts. Increasingly, power lines are going underground.