Minnesota Bridge Collapsed 1 Year Ago. Bush, Pawlenty Stall on Action
by Mike Hall, Aug 1, 2008
One year ago today, the I-35W bridge spanning the Mississippi River at Minneapolis collapsed, killing 13 people. The bridge’s deadly failure brought calls for immediate inspection and repairs of bridges around the country and focused the public’s attention on the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
But a year later, hardly any of the talk has become action. In fact, President Bush says he will veto legislation (H.R. 3999) passed by the U.S. House in July that provides $1 billion to inspect and repair bridges. Says Edward Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD):
The I-35W bridge was not an isolated example of a structure in disrepair. It is a symbol of America’s failing infrastructure and the lack of urgency to do anything about it. It is beyond ridiculous that the Bush administration opposes H.R. 3999, a sensible investment and reform proposal.
Bush is not the first executive to say no to bridge repair. Last year, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty—often mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate for Sen. John McCain—vetoed a $6.6 billion transportation spending plan that included money to replace the I-35W bridge and inspect and repair other bridges. The state legislature overrode the veto.
An Associated Press (AP) review of each state’s 20 most traveled bridges already identified with structural deficiencies shows that since last year, two-thirds of those bridges have received no attention beyond routine maintenance. Only 12 percent have had their structural deficiencies fixed. Kris Kolluri, New Jersey’s transportation commissioner told the AP:
Structural deficiency ultimately determines whether a bridge will stand or fall.
The bridges are just one danger sign of a failing infrastructure. The deaths, displacements and thousands of abandoned homes, commercial, industrial and public buildings in New Orleans stand as a testament to the devastating levee failures caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2006. The Great Lakes electrical grid that failed in the Northeast Blackout of 2003 remains outdated and vulnerable. All of these systems along with the rest of the nation’s infrastructure—roads, schools, waterways, transit systems, water systems and more are failing at an alarming rate.
Some 17 percent of the nation’s schools are rated as “unsatisfactory,” according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The American Society of Civil Engineers found more than 150 levees to be at high risk of failing due to poor maintenance. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports that over a quarter of the dams overseen by the Corps have exceeded the life span for which they were designed and need major repairs to ensure their safety.
Fixing the nation’s infrastructure is not just about safety, it’s about the economy, too. Earlier this year, AFL-CIO chief economist Ron Blackwell told a U.S. Senate committee:
Public investment in infrastructure is essential for restoring strong and sustainable economic growth essential for ensuring American prosperity.
Investing in infrastructure makes good fiscal sense. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that every $1 billion invested in transportation infrastructure generates $2 billion in economic activity. Most estimates also say that every billion dollars spent on infrastructure creates between 40,000 and 50,000 jobs.
While the nation’s troubled economy continues to sputter and shed jobs, the AFL-CIO, along with many lawmakers, is calling for a second economic stimulus bill that would include money for immediate infrastructure projects, including school repair. That would put people to work immediately in good-paying jobs and stimulate the economy quicker than tax cuts, Blackwell said.
A coalition of U.S. senators, including Barack Obama, support the creation of a national Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that invests $60 billion over 10 years and creates nearly 2 million new jobs.
Earlier this year, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called for organizations with diverse interests to come together behind a comprehensive plan to rebuild America. Sweeney said:
We all have a stake in this—every one of us—and we all have different motives for wanting action. For the AFL-CIO, it’s good jobs. For others, it is something different. We also depend on our infrastructure to keep our families and our communities healthy, comfortable and safe, and to keep our country moving. We should be able to put some of our parochial concerns aside and come together behind a comprehensive long-range infrastructure plan.
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