Fix bridges, build hope

Sanity and the needs of the American people might prevail over sabotaging any positive impact of government and a desire to defeat President Obama. While Republican Tea Party budgets proposed earlier this year called for significant, reckless cuts that would kill jobs and threaten public safety, as of last week it seems they are changing their tune on infrastructure spending. 

It’s a welcome shift, but should have been a no-brainer.

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Damage caused by this summer’s floods, fires, earthquake and hurricanes should have been a wake-up call, if not a “sign from God,” as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has said. Rather than irresponsibly waiting until after a catastrophe (like the 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis that resulted in 13 deaths), finding the resources needed to fix our nation’s infrastructure is a win-win-win, for job creation, public safety and economic development. And if we can find $60 billion to waste on private contractors and incomplete infrastructure projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, we should be able to find at least that amount to spend here in America.

 A recent study found that 1 in 9 bridges is classified “structurally deficient” — or as one expert put it, “every second of every day an American driver crosses a deficient bridge that’s in bad need of repair.” 

 Just a day after President Obama’s recent trip to Ohio highlighting one bridge project, the neighboring Sherman Minton Bridge between Kentucky and Indiana was closed when engineers found cracks in its steel beams. While the closure has created gridlock and inconvenienced commuters, its estimated that “over a 25-year period, deferring maintenance of bridges and highways can cost three times as much as preventative repairs,” adding billions in additional costs for state and local governments and taxpayers. 

 Infrastructure issues and the gridlock they create also cost American commuters an average of $750 in lost wages and gas and an extra 34 hours stuck in traffic each year. The D.C. area is highest, at 75 hours spent in traffic, costing about $1,495 annually. 

 The Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M noted in its annual mobility report that failure to address these issues could mean that as economic growth returns, by 2015 costs increase to more than $900 per commuter, and an increase from 1.9 billion gallons to 2.5 billion gallons in fuel — enough to fill more than 275,000 gasoline tanker trucks.

 As the president said in his September address to Congress, we need a more streamlined, effective process for infrastructure spending from initial concept to project implementation. Which is where elected leaders at the federal, state and local levels need to step up and work in collaboration with labor and the private sector to find efficient ways to cut through red tape and address environmental issues and other concerns to get projects moving. In a recent op-ed, Norman Anderson of CG/LA Infrastructure noted that his firm had identified 10 projects currently ready that would create nearly 1.5 million direct jobs.

 Critics shortsightedly complain that some projects could take one or more years to get under way. But the hope these projects bring is priceless.

 As Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett pointed out last week, “[C]onstruction work also serves an additional asset in that if your citizens are seeing construction, it sort of gives them a feeling that people are investing in the long term, that things are going to be better — it might help with consumer confidence.”

Karen Finney is a political analyst for MSNBC and Democratic consultant.

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