1. It’s Tuesday, August 1, 2017.
It’s the 10th anniversary of the collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis. The 8-lane span just fell into the river during the evening rush hour, killing 13 people and injuring 145 others.
The collapse was supposed to be a wake-up call that the nation’s infrastructure – not just the roads, but utilities and public transit – are crumbling.
The Obama administration recognized this to some extent, focusing its 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on billions of dollars in infrastructure spending. The measure was passed with absolutely no Republican support in the House and only three Republicans in the Senate – and one of the three switched parties afterward.
2. When Trump was elected, he talked about infrastructure spending as a priority.
Democrats, reviled by the thought this guy would be in the White House, still swallowed hard and said, hey, that’s something we can get behind.
That’s pretty much the last we’ve heard of that.
Republicans, non-believers in the idea of government, think infrastructure spending is a way for government to become more entrenched. It’s government providing jobs to people, and that’s a horrible thought – only companies should do it, and only when they deem fit. So they don’t like it.
3. I think there’s one other reason Republicans don’t go along with infrastructure spending.
While roads are being fixed or built, commuters suffer inconvenience.
For the past four years, commuters from where I live in Rockland County, New York, have dealt with the mess created as the state builds two bridges across the Hudson. They’ll replace the Tappan Zee Bridge, which was built on the cheap in the 1950s and has barely made it to August 2017.
The Tappan Zee looks and feels as if it’s headed into the Hudson anytime you drive on it. The rattling and shaking when you’re sitting bumper-to-bumper on it leads to thoughts of maybe we should update the wills.
The years of construction have been a pain. Constantly changing highway patterns. Construction crews slowly making their way across the old span. One day last year, a crane collapse closed the TZ all day – miraculously, no one was injured.
Anger is the Republican Party’s best friend.
When something like a extra-long commute makes people angry, Republicans are there to tap into the animus: Why is the government making us suffer like this? Because it can. Because that’s what government does.
But later this month, the first of the new bridges – named for the late Gov. Mario Cuomo – will open. Within two years, both new bridges will be in operation, the rickety Tappan Zee will be demolished or almost so.
4. And commuting should be safer, if not easier.
That’s an important thing. Even if an era when more people are working from home, there are reasons to travel. Besides work, there are family obligations and adventures to be had from crossing a river.
Infrastructure spending is rarely as glamorous as the new bridges will be. It means painting over rust and repaving roads. It means replacing pipes and wires that aren’t supposed to be in plain view. It means figuring out how to prevent electrical grids from collapsing the way they did one August afternoon in 2003, knocking out power to so much of the Northeast.
It is something best done by a government.
If Trump really wants to be a president, instead of trying to gut health care and giving tax breaks to people making tons of money, he should concentrate on infrastructure. On creating jobs building and fixing stuff. On fostering innovation in transportation – please don’t get me started on that again.
That’s what tax money is supposed to do. It’s a sacrifice we all make to benefit all of us.
It’s what we need to do to make sure that people just trying to get home after a day’s work or visiting their grandparents actually get there.