Infrastructure investment will be the grease to end Washington gridlock
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There may be a ray of light shining through the dark political clouds that formed in the recent election. 


The president-elect and both parties in Congress want to do something about repairing and rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure in the U.S. It has been decades since America harbored big ideas about infrastructure.  


President-elect Trump said, “We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it”.

President Eisenhower created the last big American infrastructure project by building an Interstate Highway System. That was a giant investment that paid big dividends. But it’s been decades since we aspired to think that big in repairing and building our infrastructure.

A friend of mine is fond of saying we are now drinking from wells we didn’t dig and warmed by fires we didn’t start. We are literally living on the roads, bridges, school and other infrastructure built by our parents and grandparents. That has to change!  

I wish I could take the president and members of Congress on an educational infrastructure trip. I would have them join me in boarding a train traveling from Nanjing, China, to Shanghai, China.

It’s the best train trip I’ve ever taken, by far. The new train stations at both ends are big and beautiful. You travel in a bullet train traveling at 200 mph on new train tracks, and the ride is as smooth as silk.

When you step off the train, it invites immediate comparison to the infrastructure we have here in the U.S. Here things aren’t quite so smooth. Amtrak, our rail passenger train system, has suffered along with almost every other area of infrastructure in the U.S. due to a lack of funding to repair, replace and modernize the infrastructure.

It’s not just train travel or Amtrak. The breakdown and erosion of America’s infrastructure across the country has become a crisis.

There was time when our roads, schools, hospitals, dam projects, airports, energy facilities, were the best in the world. But that is no longer the case.

The Society of Civil Engineer 2013 Report Card (published every four years) gives America a D+ rating on U.S. infrastructure. It estimated that $3.2 trillion in new investment is needed by 2020.

Until now, there has not been the collective will or effort to address this problem. But it appears that Congress and the new president-elect might start their relationship by working on an infrastructure investment bill. That would be good policy, job creating and grow the economy.

Further, making progress on this might finally signal a crack in the political gridlock that has seized our politics. Agreement on this type of legislation could prime the pump to find other ways to work together.  

There will be a debate about the scope and funding of an infrastructure bill. But at least they will be on the right subject at the right time. Here are just some of the reasons there is an urgent need to get this done.  

  1. Drinking water: The Flint, Mich., water crisis is a wake-up call on the need to rebuild and repair water and sewer lines.
  2. Bridge repair: There are 60,000 bridges in the U.S. that are badly in need of repair. Designed to last 50 years, the average bridge in the U.S. is now 43 years old.
  3. Traffic congestion: In American cities the average driver spends 38 hours a year stuck in traffic.  Road construction and repair has not kept pace with population increases.
  4. Congestion in the air: More airline passengers experience long wait time in the air and on the tarmac because the U.S. is still using World War II ground based radar rather than investing and organizing to complete the transition to a Next Generation satellite guidance systems.
  5. Electric power grid: This needs new investment to modernize and strengthen the grid for reliability and to protect against potential terrorist attacks.

That is a short version of a very long list. It’s long past the time to get started!

Dorgan served in the U. S. House and Senate for 30 years, retiring in 2011.  He is a Senior Fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a Senior Policy Advisor at Arent Fox LLP.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.