Much of the chatter following President Trump’s State of the Union address earlier this week revolved around the need for bipartisan cooperation and border security. But perhaps the biggest problem facing America is its crumbling infrastructure.
The president touched on that subject on Tuesday evening, saying infrastructure is one thing upon which both Republicans and Democrats can, and should work together on. Trump hit the bulls-eye with that statement.
We are reminded of something professors told us years ago — tackle the hard subjects first, and the rest will be a snap. What that means to us is that the partisan spat over funding for a border wall is trivial compared to the massive investment this nation needs to make in all the crucial systems that are failing because of old age, or on the verge of failing.
The president said, “Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure,” adding, “This is not an option. This is a necessity.”
True, but there are more than a few problems. For one thing, there is little agreement on how much such repairs would cost. For example, when it comes to patching up America’s highways, an engineering group puts the cost at from $3 trillion to $4 trillion. Federal officials, however, estimate the expense at about $850 billion. Whose numbers do you use when fixing a budget?
We are reminded of what the late Sen. Ev Dirksen said about federal spending: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”
Fixing roads is about more than patching holes. Traffic congestion eats up nearly 7 billion hours of motorists’ time — thus, productivity — and more than 3 billion gallons of fuel while sitting in snail-trail traffic. Anyone who’s ventured into the Los Angeles basin at rush hour knows all about that situation. Failing to safely navigate pothole-ridden highways costs drivers about $112 billion a year in auto repair bills. American drivers make more than 200 million trips a day over bridges that are deemed structurally deficient, which is engineer talk for, could collapse at any moment.
Roads are just one element of the many parts of our infrastructure in truly bad shape. The fact is that the two political parties will likely have a difficult time coming together to solve a problem, the magnitude of which is entirely unknown.
If our federal government can put together committees to investigate a sitting president, and Congress has the ability to waste time and tax dollars on things that matter only to political wonks, it seems Congress should be able to cobble together a bipartisan group to determine which areas of the infrastructure need to be addressed first, establish a baseline cost, then find the necessary funds.
The numbers will be staggering. Besides roads, our aging infrastructure includes airports, bridges, water delivery systems, the power grid. We could go on, but every area of need added puts another ka-ching on the total cost.
But as President Trump said this week, fixing these critical parts is not an option. It is a necessity.
Among the many hurdles to be overcome is the fact that our elected leaders, by virtue of inclination and demand, seem to be responding to the wishes of their constituents, many of whom are about as as ideologically divided as is humanly possible. If we want our leaders to come together, we need to come together, as voters and as citizens.
And because local politics is where the rubber hits the road, let’s start this process here at home.