Local officials and business leaders want to see the federal government spend more on infrastructure -- roads, bridges, rail lines, water systems and the like -- saying that America is falling behind other nations, and infrastructure improvements would create jobs.

On Tuesday Charleston Mayor Joe Riley joined Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and several business executives at the Charleston Maritime Center to press their case in advance of a forum today in Charleston that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will attend.

Rendell is a co-chairman of the bi-partisan Building America's Future Educational Fund, the sponsor of today's event.

With Charleston Harbor behind them, Riley and Rendell discussed the need for projects, such as port dredging, which in Charleston is necessary to accommodate the next, larger generation of container ships.

"Every county in South Carolina depends upon the port," Riley said.

From the frequent flooding problems on the Septima Clark Parkway (Crosstown expressway) to the congestion on Interstate 26, Riley said these are problems beyond the reach of local governments.

"It's the role of the national government," Riley said.

Rendell discussed levees that have failed, bridges that have fallen, gas lines that have ruptured, and the need for America to address infrastructure needs before disasters rather than after.

"The federal government has been slowly, but surely, ignoring America's infrastructure," Rendell said.

He said the federally built U.S. interstate highway system was the envy of the world. Now, Americans return from trips to Europe and Asia marvelling at the high-speed rail systems they saw overseas.

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Rendell said India and China are spending an amount equal to 9 percent of their gross domestic product on infrastructure, while the United States spends a quarter of that.

"We're losing out," he said. "We need to invest in our future. It's as simple as that."

Roper St. Francis Healthcare CEO David Dunlap represented the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce at the event, and said infrastructure "is the lifeblood of the business community."

Building America's Future wants to see the federal government reauthorize highway funding, eliminate earmarks and create a national infrastructure bank that would evaluate needs for funding. For information on today's event at the Mills House from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., call the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce at 805-3111.