America’s infrastructure — ticking time bombs in every state

Later today, I will pass through two of our nation’s airports, where I will see ample evidence suggesting that we collectively place a very high priority on protecting our transportation infrastructure from harm. On my way through security, I will dutifully remove my shoes, and will remove from my pockets such benign items as a marker, an extra paper napkin from lunch, and the keys to my bike lock.

Yet throughout this same country, there are nearly 70,000 bridges that the U.S. Department of Transportation has identified as “structurally deficient.” We all recall with horror the 2007 collapse of the bridge in Minneapolis, yet there are thousands of such ticking time bombs throughout America today. In three states — Iowa, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania — there are over 5,000 bridges deemed to be structurally deficient. While not every one of those bridges is in imminent danger of collapse, these remain alarming numbers.

Fixing America’s crumbling infrastructure should be a top priority for every national, state, and local official throughout the nation. It’s easier than often is the case in public policy debates to connect the dots on this one:

  • Crumbling infrastucture + alarmingly high rates of unemployment (particularly amongst construction workers) + interest rates at rates that remain at unprecedented low levels = jobs plan that helps put Americans back to work today, while laying the foundation for future economic growth and prosperity.

While there’s certainly room for debate about how to proceed with infrastructure investment at this time, there really shouldn’t be any debate about whether to do this. My colleague, John Irons, testified this week before the Congressional Progressive Caucus Ad Hoc Hearing on Job Creation. In his testimony, he noted, “Congress should immediately reauthorize the Surface Transportation Act at the higher spending levels requested by President Obama … increase[ing] transportation investments by $213 billion over the next decade [thereby] add[ing] 350,000 job-years of employment over 2012-2014.”

Michael Likosky has written at length about the need to create an infrastructure bank, leveraging both public and private sector money to strengthen America’s infrastructure, and noting that, “If we don’t find a way to build a sound foundation for growth, the American dream will survive only in our heads and history books.”

American workers understand the importance of investing in infrastructure — last Thursday, tens of thousands of workers rallied in cities and towns throughout America for bridge repairs and job repair, as part of the AFL-CIO’s Infrastructure Investment Day of Action.

For state governments, investing in infrastructure through bonding is one of the few (and most effective) tools at their disposal to help spark a real economic recovery that helps working families today, while making investments that will contribute to future prosperity. Friday’s “Smart Brief” from the American Society of Civil Engineers highlights Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan to invest $10 billion over the next five years in capital spending, “focus[ing] on job creation through transportation projects, smart growth and construction and improvement of public higher-education facilities.” This is the sort of initiative that other states should emulate. Only through such aggressive investment in infrastructure will Americans in every state be confident that they are safe crossing today’s bridges, and that the road ahead leads to shared prosperity.

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