It’s the Infrastructure…Stupid!
Presently, all talk in Washington is focused on the latest twined crisis: the debt ceiling and sequestration.
In the background of this collective hand wringing and fear mongering over this new self-imposed crisis in Congress, something bigger is looming; our crumbling infrastructure and its insufficient Federal funding.
Well-maintained infrastructure is essential for the economic health of the United States. Its bridges, roads, dams, transit systems, airports, sea/river ports, water/sewer systems, and electrical grids are in grave need of repair and expansion.
The problem with our highways and bridges has been known for a significant amount of time, perhaps more than 30 years. It is also widely documented that our power grid is woefully inadequate to cope with the modern demand for power.
This is not a complicated issue. When you build things, you must maintain them or eventually see their deterioration. This is evident in the aging miles of the Interstate located in urbanized areas, leaking sanitary and water systems; numerous deteriorating bridges in all states and cities, and worn rapid transit tracks.
Recently, hurricane/tropical storm Sandy proved the vulnerability of our urban infrastructure. It will take months to rebuild all that was damaged in just a few hours. However, some of the infrastructure was in need of repair before this natural disaster. Although denied by some, Sandy was a wake-up call to many that global warming is a reality and not some ‘leftist’ propaganda. The rebuilding of infrastructure along coastal areas due to Sandy is merely to return to status quo. What should be in process is rebuilding of infrastructure in accordance with possible erosion, sea water rise and the future storms of the same or greater magnitude.
All these issues concerning the deficit are ignoring the obvious that major infrastructure improvements are far more important than gaining more revenue or cutting expenditures. Trans-Continental Railroad and the Interstate and Defense Highway System actually created jobs, brought about additional development and led the U.S. to be the largest economy in the world.
Let us remember another time when America was struggling economically–The Great Depression. During this time, Works Project Administration built major infrastructure improvements such as dams, bridges, public parks and other physical structures which many of them are still among us. These were not ‘make work’ projects, but those that put Americans back to work, pumped needed money into the economy and provided the essential framework for America’s future role.
With infrastructure failure and the needs of new infrastructure not being met, reducing the deficit, while important, should not over-shadow this glaring issue. The economy will be severely damaged by failing infrastructure if this situation is not addressed. Industries, business, goods movement, mobility, job creation, social welfare, and revenue generation all depend upon maintaining and expanding infrastructure.
It was encouraging that President Obama made infrastructure one of the primary topics in his recent State of the Union. Particularly noteworthy was an anecdotal reference about Siemens stating that they would invest more in USA if there were significant infrastructure improvements. What was given a brief mention was the construction of a high speed rail network which could prove to be a significant economic boost to the U.S. economy (See my earlier article in the Progressive Press on high speed rail, “On the Side Track? High Speed Rail in North America.”) There are also new Interstate Highway construction planned to make better connections internally and to Canada and Mexico, which were not important to be placed within the State of the Union.
President Obama was nudging the U.S. Congress to act in a bi-partisan manner to tackle blaring issues such as infrastructure. This was a veiled rebuke to the Tea Party Republicans who now dominate the GOP. Presently, Republican Party’s obsession with abortion, immigration, marriage equality, gun control, Obamacare, cutting social programs and the deficit, is preventing serious consideration of issues such as infrastructure, job creation, income inequality.
One questions if the Republicans have the basic understanding of the underpinnings of the economic sustainability and the gravity of their foot dragging actions. There are rumblings in the GOP toward a most centrist approach, but the action is being considered with kid gloves to avoid the ire of the volatile Tea Party radicals. It is unfortunate that the present environment among Republicans in the Congress is one of posturing to the radical right. This may become their Achilles‘ heel in the upcoming election of 2014.
Must we see another tragedy as happened in Minneapolis with the collapse of a major bridge over the Mississippi River, before the U.S. Congress takes action? Or like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce director Janet F. Kavinoky says “Unless we increase overall funding for infrastructure, all we’re doing is fighting over the placement of the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
Image Credit: www.denverpost.com/commented/ci_6521227