Sunday, August 5, 2007

Fix our bridges? Nah, let's bomb one instead

Last week's bridge collapse in Minneapolis focused public attention, at least fleetingly, on the problem of our aging infrastructure. How many more infrastructure-failure deaths we wonder will it take to prompt lasting attention in the form of project development and funding?

The government's failure to act is not surprising. Infrastructure isn't politically sexy. As Gilbert Wesley Purdy writes:

"Largely ignoring the crumbling state of our national infrastructure has been a bi-partisan trait for decades now. The Republican successes of the past 20 years have been founded almost entirely upon the idea that government and taxes should be reduced. Democrats stumping for universal health care and other admirable big-ticket programs, during much of that time, as their alternative to Republican minimalism, have been in no position suggest yet another such program."

Despite all that, Purdy reminds us that:

"In 2005, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) completed an infrastructure report card for the country. They estimated the total cost of recovering the public road systems, water systems, sewer systems, dams, levees and buildings, at $1.6 trillion over five years. The figure also includes projected expenses associated with the increased oversight of the U.S. power transmission grid which the group considered essential in order to avoid such debacles as the Great 2003 Blackout and the 2006 Queens Blackout."

The situation, already serious, is likely to get worse. The Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday reported :

"Sometime after October 2008, the main money source for interstate repairs, the federal Highway Trust Fund, is expected to start running a deficit. When that happens, some green-lighted reconstruction projects could have trouble getting the U.S. government to pay up, forcing states to put off essential road repairs."

With so many other important needs competing for federal funds--like health care, education, medical research, alternative energy development, and environmental remediation--the obvious question is, where will all the money come from?

Would it be unpatriotic to note that, with Congress's recent approval of an additional $100 billion, the total amount spent or allocated for the Iraq War is reaching an astounding half a trillion dollars?

Do you, fellow taxpayer, believe you're getting an adequate return on that investment?

It may be titillating to watch American smart bombs blow up bridges in Baghdad, but wouldn't it be even smarter to use the money to rebuild bridges at home?

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