When the levees broke in New Orleans, I wrote about the desperate need for a New Deal for the 21st Century – one which would rebuild a crumbling infrastructure, help address glaring income inequality, and repair the damage done by a Bush administration fiercely hostile to the notion that government can serve the public good.
The collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis is yet another alarm, alerting us to our skewed priorities and need for a public investment agenda.
As The Nation argues in its forthcoming lead editorial, the neglect of our infrastructure is seen in collapsing bridges and exploding steam pipes, flooded subways, traffic-choked streets and clogged-up ports, electrical power brownouts, corroding drinking water systems, uneven broadband access, and an antiquated air traffic system.
The US Department of Transportation estimated that freight bottlenecks cost the economy $200 billion a year–nearly 1.6 percent of GDP. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that it would cost $151 billion and $390 billion every year over the next 20 years to repair obsolete drinking water and wastewater systems, respectively — systems that average 50 to 100 years of age. According to the Federal Highway Administration, $131.7 billion and $9.4 billion is needed every year over the next 20 years to repair deficient roads and bridges, respectively. Moreover, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that $1.6 trillion over the next five years would be required to alleviate problems with the nation’s infrastructure. As John Nichols wrote, “That $1.6 trillion figure sounds like a lot of money, unless it is compared with the anticipated cost of $1 trillion or more for completing George Bush’s mission in Iraq.”
This is eminently doable, it’s a question of political will.
Following the bridge collapse, Senators Christopher Dodd and Chuck Hagel introduced legislation to establish a National Infrastructure Bank that would enable the federal government to help finance infrastructure projects – partly through federal guarantees to state and local governments. Projects would include publicly-owned mass transit systems, roads, bridges, drinking water and wastewater systems, and housing properties. In the House, Congressmen Dennis Kucinich and Steven LaTourette introduced The Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure Act which would create a low-cost federal financing mechanism to administer zero-interest loans to localities. States choose which projects to fund with the loans according to their specific needs.