With a Democratic majority in the House, infrastructure must remain key priority

Although partisan politics are at a record high, it seems both Democrats and Republicans can set aside their differences and come together on at least one issue: infrastructure development. Infrastructure has continued to make headlines in recent weeks, with calls from across the aisle echoing the need for a comprehensive plan in 2019. Newly elected Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDems plan Monday call on Mueller report: 'Congress will not be silent' Heavily redacted Mueller report leaves major questions unanswered Top Dems: Barr 'deliberately distorted' portions of Mueller report MORE (D-Calif.) recently told reporters she has discussed “building infrastructure” with President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg on Mueller report: 'Politically, I'm not sure it will change much' Sarah Sanders addresses false statements detailed in Mueller report: 'A slip of the tongue' Trump to visit Japan in May to meet with Abe, new emperor MORE and aims to “create jobs from sea to shining sea.”   

Fourteen million Americans have jobs directly related to infrastructure. From construction workers to air traffic controllers, these jobs make up nearly 11 percent of our nation’s workforce. With the passage of a strong infrastructure bill, opportunities in the field are only expected to multiply. Economic growth goes hand-in-hand with infrastructure development.

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But economic stimulus is not the only factor driving calls for infrastructure development – the physical need is evident. Nearly 9 percent of our highway bridges were considered “structurally deficient” in 2017. The EPA recently announced more than $470 billion is needed to maintain and improve the nation’s drinking water infrastructure over the next 20 years. And in the oil fields of Texas’ booming Permian Basin, pipeline bottlenecks have become so severe that drillers have resorted to flaring record amounts of natural gas. Not good!

It’s clear that infrastructure development must be a priority in 2019. Yet, that’s not what we have seen in the bayous of Louisiana or the plains of the Dakotas. For example, energy infrastructure projects have been plagued with fringe activists and anti-energy protesters who continue to escalate tactics, often times breaking the law and endangering themselves and innocent bystanders in the process. Some have taken to chaining themselves to construction equipment and creating aerial blockades in the trees. In Pennsylvania, one vigilante protester started a fire near equipment and spread spoiled food near a construction site to bother workers and attract wild animals.

At a time when both parties are working to come together in Washington, these risky demonstrations and polarizing attempts are further contributing to the collapse of public discourse around this important issue. There is a time and place for civil debate on these projects, but dangerous stunts and risking the public’s wellbeing by preventing the completion of much-needed infrastructure is not the answer.

Some groups have even gone as far as to demand banks refuse to do business or associate with the energy companies building projects to better serve American consumers across the country. We must come together to support these critical projects and work to ensure they’re done in the most environmentally sensitive way possible.

The U.S. faces complex infrastructure deficiencies that are undoubtedly multi-faceted and will take some time to improve. These matters will not be solved overnight; or within the next year, for that matter. But a long-term solution starts with a strong infrastructure plan with bipartisan support in 2019. Through the integration of effective public-private partnerships and a clear vision, lawmakers can hit the ground running and develop a plan to grow our nation’s infrastructure.   

Charlie Melancon is a former Democratic member of Congress from Louisiana and former Louisiana Secretary of Wildlife and Fisheries. He now works with the pro-infrastructure group Grow America’s Infrastructure Now (GAIN) Coalition.