First, it should begin by fixing what we already have. Research suggests, for example, that fixing existing roads delivers greater return on investment than expanding them. But, too often, necessary repairs take a back seat to glitzy boondoggles that afford politicians ribbon-cutting photo ops. A "fix it first" approach to repairing and preserving our existing infrastructure is an economic no-brainer and should take first priority.
Second, our investments should emerge from a clear sense of 21st century priorities. A trillion dollars in infrastructure spending sounds like a lot of money – and it is. But it doesn't go as far as you might think – especially if we first spend what is necessary to fix our existing roads, transit systems, and water systems. Without priorities and criteria for making smart investments, one trillion dollars may quickly disappear into "bridges to nowhere." We need clear vision and the willingness to make tough choices.
And those choices need to be informed by 21st century realities. As America gains energy independence through renewable energy and as more of our neighbors transition from energy consumers to energy producers through roof-top solar panels and windmills on farmland, we need a modern, decentralized, electric grid. As Americans, especially millennials, drive less and less, we shouldn't simply build more and bigger roads, but instead make it feasible for all Americans, rural, suburban and urban, to get where they need to go without relying on a personal car.