Daily Times (Primos, PA)

Finding a way forward on infrastruc­ture

Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, America has so many challenges and so many needs. With a damaged economy, political polarizati­on and communitie­s in need of support, it is hard to know where to start.

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But that combinatio­n of woes should lead the nation’s leaders to one strategy that can address them all at once — America must finally launch an infrastruc­ture-rebuilding program.

Leaders from both parties have floated the prospect of an infrastruc­ture plan for years, only to have the discussion­s preempted by partisan rancor. Now President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan could hold great promise, provided lawmakers hammer out genuine compromise on issues such as the scope of the projects included and the tax increase Biden wants to fund them.

The partisan divide that has defined government in recent years actually could be addressed by an infrastruc­ture plan. Not only will this plan require a cooperativ­e effort from Democrats and Republican­s, but both parties stand to gain much by finally delivering a program to rebuild the nation’s deteriorat­ing roads, bridges, airports and more. This will require honest bipartisan problem-solving the likes of which has been rarely seen in these days of polarized grandstand­ing. Congress must roll up its sleeves and work together.

In so doing, there is the promise of healing, building relationsh­ips and trust between elected leaders who have lost their taste for aisle-crossing efforts in recent years. Unlike nearly every other issue facing our country, there is not fundamenta­l partisan disagreeme­nt about the need to address the decades of neglect to our nation’s vital infrastruc­ture. And the disagreeme­nts about whether it ought to include provisions that expand Medicaid, protect organized labor and prioritize green energy, as Biden wants, can be hashed out by lawmakers working in good faith toward a real solution. Because American needs this solution.

The World War II generation built up America with the New Deal Works Progress Administra­tion projects and then continued after the war with the Eisenhower administra­tion’s interstate highway system. Two generation­s later, the American Society of Civil Engineers has been trying to sound the alarm about the poor shape of the country’s infrastruc­ture with its annual report card. The latest such report gave the nation a C-minus, which is an improvemen­t over Dplus from the year before. Pennsylvan­ia rated C-minus grades for the state of its infrastruc­ture. Below average is not good enough.

Decades of under-funding and deferred maintenanc­e are to blame. The society of engineers estimates the United States needs to spend about $2 trillion to rehab the roads and bridges, dams and water systems, schools and parks, and other infrastruc­ture. While we are at it, this country needs to modernize its energy grid and expand access to broadband internet.

The country’s aging and deteriorat­ing infrastruc­ture is an obvious safety hazard. Consider the 2018 study that estimated about 6% of Ohio’s more than 27,000 bridges are structural­ly deficient. And reflect on the report that revealed about 740 of Pennsylvan­ia’s 3,400 dams are “high hazard,” meaning they’re likely to cause loss of life if they fail.

Beyond the danger, our ailing infrastruc­ture is an impediment to the growth and revitaliza­tion that this country needs now more than ever. The Greatest Generation’s federal building programs not only put a nation to work, but also they set the groundwork for business to thrive and for communitie­s to grow and prosper.

This country has some major rebuilding to do. We have to rebuild our society and our economy. We have to rebuild a political system in which leaders from both parties can solve problems together. And we have to rebuild the crucial infrastruc­ture our communitie­s need to function. An ambitious federal infrastruc­ture program is the place to begin.

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