Infrastructure Challenge Tests Washington’s Ability To Function

Posted: Dec 28, 2017 12:50 PM
Infrastructure Challenge Tests Washington’s Ability To Function

There is no area where more bipartisan agreement exists than that of repairing America’s crumbling infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) rates the nation’s infrastructure at only a D+.

ASCE notes: 

“Our nation is at a crossroads. Deteriorating infrastructure is impeding our ability to compete in the thriving global economy, and improvements are necessary to ensure our country is built for the future. While we have made some progress, reversing the trajectory after decades of underinvestment in our infrastructure requires transformative action from Congress, states, infrastructure owners, and the American people.”

But can work on this begin in 2018? From the potholed roads and overaged bridges of the Northeast to the worrisome levees of New Orleans and the inadequate mass transit of California, the United States is in urgent need of infrastructure upgrade and repair. That’s only part of the problem. The nation’s electrical grid, currently unprotected, could be wiped out by an EMP attack originating from either an attack or a natural solar event.

 Both parties, and most Americans, have taken note of the need to address the crisis.

A 2016 Reuters review highlighted in Fortune Magazine noted that “Nearly half of registered U.S. voters think American infrastructure has deteriorated in the last five years […] Forty-one percent of Democrats said infrastructure has gotten worse over the last five years, while 53% of Republicans took that view.”

The Trump Administration believes that “Nothing more visibly reveals the failure of Washington than the crumbling roads, bridges, and infrastructure that dot America’s landscape. Instead of putting people to work, fragmented and unpredictable federal approval processes drag on for years and sometimes decades.”

Ranking Democrat Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) has called for improving long-term economic growth by investing in infrastructure. “Investing in broad-based economic growth was at the core of America’s success in the decades after World War II.”

Business Insider notes that “There’s a $1 trillion crisis threatening the American way of life as we know it.” Despite the obstacles, infrastructure repair and upgrade if vital. John Grady, no fan of the current White House, wrote in Chicago Business

“[…]if you want to make America great again, start repairing the nation’s failing infrastructure […] I am referring to the infrastructure that is the backbone of the U.S. economy, such as bridges, drinking water systems, dams, navigable waterways, rail, roads, transit and wastewater. Industries and companies of all sizes are risking everyone’s safety by relying on the current state of America’s failing bridges, drinking water plants, roads, tunnels and wastewater treatment plants.”

But can common ground be found on how to do it? Can the problems of waste and corruption, so endemic to almost all areas of federal spending, be minimized to make the task affordable?

An example of this roadblock to real progress can be seen in how a significant portion of 9/11 funds were misused. A New York Daily News study found that,

“9/11 recovery aid was used to finance a plethora of projects that taxpayers elsewhere could be forgiven for characterizing as old-fashioned pork-barrel spending.”

Even apart from corruption and waste, federal rules render many necessary projects expensive and potentially unaffordable. The Davis-Bacon Act increases the labor portion of any project. Tim Worstall, writing for Forbes notes that “Union Wages Increase Construction Costs By 20%.”

It is appropriate to question why the $780 billion “stimulus” package spent by the Obama Administration failed to even attempt to address this, and why the former president alleged that he couldn’t find “shovel-ready” jobs.  Addressing the infrastructure issue will be a test of whether the U.S. political environment can rise up partisanship to achieve a vital goal.