A bumpy road to bipartisanship

The road doesn’t care if you are young or old, male or female, rich or poor. The road is there for you, to calm you and excite you, to take you back home and to familiar places to lead to new paths of adventure, discovery and joy. To let the explorer in you explore.

When it is the journey, as well as the destination, the road is your answer.

{mosads}We love our roads — the Chisholm Trail, the Pacific Coast Highway, the Lincoln Highway, the Appalachian Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Glenn Highway, the Natchez Trace, Route 66. Roads are our blood; they keep our nation alive. They lead us to tomorrow, to byways and thruways, skyways and blue highways.

Fifty years ago it seemed to take forever to get from here to there because of the haphazard, piecemeal network of roads and highways. The vision that produced the Interstate Highway system and the strong support from the federal government solved that problem and created the infrastructure that helped lead America’s economic growth to leadership.

Not any more.

Today, it again takes forever to get from here to there because of congestion on those historic roads and — once again — piecemeal augmentations. And what is left is crumbling.

Thus, earlier this year when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared on the CBS news show “60 Minutes” and said fixing the infrastructure was a roadway to bipartisan action, they grasped history. Good roads not only move Americans; they reelect politicians.

Both parties need not look very far to see the need. The most majestic, most beautiful bridge in the nation’s capital — the Arlington Memorial Bridge, linking Arlington National Cemetery to the Lincoln Memorial — is crumbling away.

In May, federal officials closed two lanes of the bridge for emergency repairs. The steel supports for the bridge are so corroded they cannot longer meet load-bearing standards.

That decay is not alone. In 2014, the Department of Transportation reported that there are 61,064 bridges facing the same threats. That does not even mention roads.

This is not a new problem. In 1979, in a tryout for my first journalism job in Washington, the assignment was to report on the horrifying deterioration of roads and bridges across America.

Many lament how President Obama failed to include roads, bridges and infrastructure repairs in his stimulus package. It was the perfect Congress-to-shovel program that would have made a vast difference, in a time when he had money to spend, new ambition and Democratic control of both chambers.

McConnell has read the need. In July, the Senate passed a passed a six-year highway bill that included a variety of ways to pay for the first three years of the legislation.

House Republicans want to negotiate with the White House on tax reform to pay for a long-term highway bill, so the House passed a $8 billion three-month highway bill extension in July. The Senate then approved, to give those talks more “space,” as McConnell said. Ironically, Obama grumbled when he signed the three-month extension, telling reporters, “We can’t keep on funding transportation by the seat of our pants.”

Bipartisanship is full of potholes on Capitol Hill and it appears there are rutted roads even within the parties.

There are roughly 4 million miles of paved road in America, and some of them are guaranteed to lead you to the best times you’ve ever had. Getting us to the school play; daydreaming at the green light after dropping off your first date; the late-night rush to the emergency room; the joyous meander of being semi-lost, driving on a side road into a big Texas sunset, hearing Buddy Holly on the radio singing the perfect song for your wedding dance.

So when our roads crumble and our bridges creak and break, so do our hearts and perhaps our souls.

History has shown that we need to be bold and visionary to come up with solutions that solve today’s problems and chart the route to another 50 years of economic and transportation growth.

We all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Those are not the roads we seek. The road from here has to be better than that. Let’s step on the gas and get going.

Squitieri is an award-winning reporter and communications veteran and an adjunct professor at Washington and Jefferson College.

Tags Department of Transportation DoT Highway Infrastructure Interstate Highway System John Boehner Mitch McConnell Transportation

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