I thought the only essential needs were food, water and shelter.
That's true, along with air and sleep*.
Also, needs are defined in different ways depending on circumstance, with no consensus. Certainly food is a need, but is sunshine? We get vitamin D from sunshine, and diet can't make up for lack. Sex is a biological imperative, but can at any time be put off until later.
Needs also form a sort of "hierarchy", where once you are satisfied at a certain level, adding more at that level will gain you nothing. A company can't raise morale by making the bathroom even cleaner than it is - once the bathroom is "clean enough", extra work makes no appreciable difference. Once you have enough to eat, having more doesn't make you happier.
"Safety" is also a need, and depending on the school of thought it comes before or after food and water.
Once you have several layers of needs met, you reach the layer of "self actualization", which is loosely "the need to accomplish something".
That's what this proposal addresses - the need for people to better themselves, and to do something useful with their time.
This proposal is a good idea in many ways - ethically, economically, technically, environmentally. There's no down-side that I can see.
To take one example (economics), new businesses arise from innovation built on infrastructure. This type of infrastructure will foster an enormous boon in productivity, business, employment, and general well-being of people in the country.
In the same manner that the Interstate Highway System fostered economic progress by giving companies easy access to cheap product delivery.
This is exactly the type of project that centralized government should be doing - it promotes growth, increased productivity, jobs, and general welfare. It's of benefit to the people, and not pork directed to specific selected companies.
*I hope this doesn't read as snarky - that's not my intent.