As state lawmakers gather in New Orleans this week for a policy conference, they'll be reminded often of what can happen if public works are allowed to deteriorate.
About 1,000 lawmakers and 5,000 staff, policy experts and lobbyists are expected to attend the National Conference of State Legislatures' annual convention July 22-26 to discuss issues affecting their states, ranging from finding cleaner energy sources to the mortgage crisis to the federal government's role in improving schools.
The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina nearly three years ago — and New Orleans' rebuilding efforts — will be a hot topic of discussion. “We think New Orleans is a very appropriate place to talk about infrastructure and energy,” said Gene Rose, NCSL's director of communications. “There's a lot of curiosity by legislators and staff about what happened during Katrina and in the recovery.”
Those attending will get the chance to inspect Crescent City levees that failed in several places, flooding 80 percent of the city and leaving nearly 2,000 people dead. While many of the levees have been rebuilt, whether they can withstand another severe storm is still unknown, and much of the city remains abandoned.
Minnesota state officials will report to the lawmakers on their response to another deadly infrastructure failure, last year's Minneapolis bridge collapse, which killed 13 people and shut down a major Mississippi River crossing. Experts from Asia, Germany and France will be on hand to compare foreign road and rail systems to those in the United States.
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) plan to rally the legislators to support an effort to spend $1.6 trillion over five years on infrastructure. The unusual appearance by a governor at a legislative gathering is part of a campaign by Rendell, Bloomberg and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to prod the federal government to fund more construction projects.
Read the full report NCSL Conference Focuses on Floods, Energy on Stateline.org.