Saturday, May 15, 2021
May 15, 2021

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In Our View: Infrastructure foundation to economic recovery

The Columbian
Published:

As the nation works to recover from the economic damage of the coronavirus pandemic, infrastructure spending will be essential. For both short-term and long-term prosperity, shoring up long-neglected roads, bridges, ports, railroads and airports is a key to maintaining the United States’ status as the most dynamic economy in the world.

Public spending on infrastructure will put people to work on construction projects, create jobs by making businesses more viable and develop new avenues to prosperity. As Clark County residents who have attempted to cross the Interstate 5 Bridge at rush hour — or just about any other time of day — can attest, inattention to infrastructure is costly in terms of both time and commerce.

A report last week from the American Society of Civil Engineers highlights the urgency of the issue. In its “Infrastructure Report Card” released Wednesday, the group called for strong investment while giving the nation’s infrastructure a grade of C-.

“America’s infrastructure is not functioning as it should, and families are losing thousands of dollars a year in disposable income as a result of cities having to fix potholes, people getting stuck in traffic or due to repairs when a water line breaks or the energy grid goes down,” said Greg DiLoreto, one of the group’s past presidents.

In Washington, a recent report from QuoteWizard ranks the state among the 10 worst in terms of road quality. The survey assessed 27 percent of Washington roads to be “non-acceptable.”

The report from the civil engineers estimates that the United States will need to spend $5.9 trillion over the next decade to bring roads, bridges and airports to a safe and sustainable level. That would be an increase of about $2.6 trillion compared with what governments and the private sector currently spend.

President Donald Trump frequently held an “infrastructure week” to bring attention to the need, but his administration failed to get Congress on board with a comprehensive package. Now, President Joe Biden reportedly is laying the groundwork for congressional support once a coronavirus relief package is approved.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said: “This report card is a warning and a call to action. A generation of disinvestment is catching up to us, and we must choose whether to allow our global competitors to pull ahead permanently, or to invest in the safety, equity, resilience and economic strength that superior infrastructure can bring to Americans.”

Biden told the engineers group: “This isn’t just a red vs. blue state issue; this isn’t just a rural issue or an urban issue. This is a national issue, and the benefits are enormous.”

The costs of a lack of investment also are enormous. The most recent example is the failure of the power grid in Texas during a recent cold snap, leaving millions of people without heat in frigid temperatures. But Clark County residents can see it every day on local roads or when a water main breaks in central Vancouver — as one did in October.

The society of engineers says a water main breaks somewhere in the country an average of every two minutes, resulting in 6 billion gallons of treated water being lost in an typical day.

Improving infrastructure will require a strong commitment from taxpayers and governments. As the engineers’ report says: “Big and bold action from Washington, as well as continued prioritization by states and localities, is needed to bring all our infrastructure to a state of good repair.”

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