In modern society, we too often fall into the trap of politicising ideas and discussions on important issues. This not only serves to divide, but also severely inhibits the pace at which progress can be made. And yet, 12 months on from the onset of a pandemic that few of us could ever have anticipated, there are surely still some common ideals that unite us as a nation.
It’s through this lens that I welcome the vision laid out this week by President Biden in his American Jobs Plan. Creating millions of new jobs, improving crumbling infrastructure, providing uniform access to clean drinking water, addressing historic inequalities and safeguarding communities from the growing risks of climate change are all goals that transcend party lines, and which can have a galvanising effect as we strive to build back better over the coming years.
While there is no guarantee the bill will pass, the level of ambition and the focus on issues that are likely to attract bipartisan support, means that many elements of the plan should endure even as amendments are made when the bill works its way through the formal review process.
One thing that is abundantly clear in speaking with clients across the many sectors that Wood operates in, is the commonly held view that the US is ripe for an infrastructure stimulus. This investment could serve as a catalyst for economic growth and improving quality of life in communities across the country.
From a Wood perspective, I’m also very encouraged by the many similarities between the blueprint set out in the American Jobs Plan and our own corporate strategy.
The $621bn that is being earmarked to help repair roads and bridges, modernise public transit, expand the country’s rail network and turbo-charge an electric vehicle revolution are all very welcome developments that will create thousands of well-paid jobs and deliver many other associated benefits. Our work with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to upgrade the I-405 serves as a great example of how investment in improving an existing road network can not only improve traffic flow and reduce travel time, but also deliver safer roads and expand transit options. Similarly, our work in Oakville, Ontario shows how investment in new transit can also drive the transition towards a lower-carbon future.
Within the plan, the strong emphasis on building more resilient infrastructure is also very timely. The statistics cited in the document make compelling evidence for sustained investment in this space; in 2020 alone, the US faced 22 extreme weather and climate-related disaster events which ultimately cost the nation almost $100bn. We had a further stark reminder earlier this year in Texas when a power outage due to a deep freeze had a huge impact on lives and livelihoods across the state.
At Wood, we are delivering a broad range of projects that are helping clients adapt their assets and communities to increase resilience. We have mapped the flood hazards of rivers across the US covering 250,000 miles, while our work in building a more resilient coastline in Prime Hook, Delaware is a bellwether project in showing how investment in resilience can restore natural habitats and drive multiple other social and economic benefits as well.
Finally, the focus on providing uniform access to safe and clean drinking water is something we should all applaud. In the world’s largest economy, it is simply unacceptable that 6-10 million homes still receive drinking water through lead pipes and service lines. Similarly, the $10bn that has been allocated to monitor and remediate PFAS in drinking water is another welcome and well-timed initiative.
The growing issue of ‘forever contaminants’ like PFAS is an area where Wood is seeing strong demand for innovative, technical solutions. At the US Marine Corps’ largest air base in San Diego, CA, we developed a PFAS solution to address 320,000 gallons of impacted wastewater at five aircraft hangars. This earned the base the 2020 Secretary of Defense Environmental Quality Award which recognises outstanding accomplishments in innovative and cost-effective environmental management strategies.
In many ways, I see a certain symbolism in the fact that President Biden chose to lay out this new vision in the city of Pittsburgh. At its core, the plan sets out an ambition to reimagine and rebuild the economy and the renaissance of the Steel City following the deindustrialisation of the 1970’s and 1980’s, serves as a strong example of what can be achieved through a successful marriage of job creation, targeted investment and innovation.
As we emerge from the dark cloud of Covid-19, we need to put politics aside and move forward with courage, optimism and a commitment to our fellow citizens. No plan is ever perfect, but the American Jobs Plan embodies these values and I hope it is a basis on which we can shape a brighter future.