On D-Day's 75th anniversary, our returning troops still need infrastructure

On D-Day's 75th anniversary, our returning troops still need infrastructure
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This week we celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, arguably the most ambitious and consequential military invasions in history. I’ve been moved to reflect on my grandfather’s service in World War II. After fighting in Europe on D-Day and serving two tours in the Korean War, he retired in 1964 and moved his family to Colorado. He and my grandmother bought an RV in the 1970s to tour the highways and backroads of the country that he loved.

As our country actively debates much-needed infrastructure improvements today, the argument often misses something my grandfather deeply appreciated — that infrastructure investments like those following World War II paid tribute to the prospect of a peaceful and stable nation for those returning from hard-fought battles. The same holds true today. 

After WWII, the troops returned home, and the country started to re-build. On June 29, 1956, President Eisenhower, who commanded allied troops on D-Day, signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. The bill created 41,000 “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways” that were designed to provide safe and swift intercontinental travel and allow for quick evacuation of cities in the event of a national security emergency.

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Today, Eisenhower’s vision of a highway system that provides the American people with access to all corners of the country for enjoyment and safety, includes congested highways, aging bridges and roads in disrepair. A recent study reported that congestion, on average, costs each American 97 hours and $1,348 every year.

With over $830 billion in capital needs for roads and bridges, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that for each dollar spent on improvements, a hefty return of $5.20 accrues in the form of lower maintenance costs, decreased delays, improved safety, and reduced fuel needs. This means that investing in transportation infrastructure not only honors a vision of the past, but also invites people to get to know the beauty, cultural roots, diversity and history of this nation, and in so doing gain a broader understanding of what makes this country unique. 

The military itself is also not immune from infrastructure needs. Currently, military bases across the country are reeling from the impacts of severe weather events and faltering infrastructure. In Ohio, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is evacuating damaged homes and cleaning up debris from the latest swath of tornados that swept through the area. Offut Air Base in Nebraska was hit by flood waters in March and coastal air bases were slammed by last year’s hurricanes. 

While military leadership typically focuses on strategy, deployment and training, the Air Force’s top general and chief of staff are concerned with the looming summer storm season. They have called on Congress to approve a disaster aid bill that, along with infrastructure funding, has been waylaid by the ongoing immigration debate.

Infrastructure investments are about more than keeping today’s pipes, bridges, buildings, roads and rails in working order, they are also about honoring the physical systems that allow for the pursuit of peace and prosperity in this country. In addition, a commitment to infrastructure improvements ensure that the country has the agility and ability to respond to future changes. As approval for infrastructure funding remains stalled, what can Americans do?

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First, the key is to address problems as they arise. Take an active role in noticing what needs fixing in your community and bring it to the attention of local leaders.

Second, support local funding efforts to fix roads, maintain water lines, bolster flood control structures and reinforce community buildings.

Third, ask hard questions in the upcoming presidential campaign about how a backlog in investments can be addressed to safeguard today’s assets for future security. While the United States faces new crises of equity and violence here and abroad, our ability to rise to the occasion of justice rests upon the brick and mortar of every road, town, and corner of this country.

Amy McCoy was a captain in the U.S. Air Force, is currently co-founder of Martin & McCoy, a water strategy consulting firm, and is a Public Voices fellow with The OpEd Project.