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You don’t have to look far for examples of why investing in America’s infrastructure is necessary.
This time of year in Maine, hundreds of miles of roads are posted because they can’t bear the wear and tear of heavy vehicles. Late last month, tens of thousands of gallons of untreated waste water flowed into the St. John River when an ice chuck lodged into a pipe in Madawaska. And, dangerous lead paint is common in far too many Maine homes.
Overall, Maine’s infrastructure earned a C-minus grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers with 13 percent of bridges designated as deficient, nearly a quarter of the state’s regulated dams rated as unsatisfactory and almost half the state’s beaches rated potentially unsafe for swimming because of contamination from wastewater. The report also identified the need for improvements to drinking water and wastewater, solid waste and energy systems, to Maine’s rail and transit networks and to schools and parks.
This comprehensive assessment highlights the foolishness of recent misplaced criticism from some Republicans and commentators who suggest that infrastructure is confined to roads and bridges.
While we have concerns about how the massive infrastructure bill proposed by President Joe Biden will be paid for, we have no question that huge investments are needed to improve America’s infrastructure, not just for today, but also for the future. This means funding and building projects that improve safety and efficiency but also reduce emissions and can adapt to new sources of cleaner, renewable energy.
The White House unveiled portions of a $4 trillion infrastructure plan last week. It includes funding for improving the safety of drinking water systems, diversifying and strengthening our energy production and delivery, expanding broadband, improving the energy efficiency and safety of homes, schools and federal buildings, among other projects also aimed at creating jobs and spurring American manufacturing. There is also funding for roads, bridges and other transportation projects.
Some Republicans quickly attacked the plan for devoting so little money to roads and bridges, as if this is the only thing that counts as infrastructure.
“I was shocked by how much doesn’t go into infrastructure,” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said in an interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity. “It goes into research and development, it goes into housing and pipes and different initiatives, green energy, and it’s not really an honest conversation that we’re having about what this proposal is.”
Many residents of Flint, Michigan, likely have a different view. For more than five years, the drinking water in the majority Black city was unsafe, contaminated with high levels of lead, which can interfere with brain development in young children and cause other health problems. It took nearly $400 million in state and federal funds to secure a new water supply, to run safe pipes to all the city’s homes that needed them. The city and state will also pay nearly $650 million in a legal settlement with many of the city’s residents. Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and members of his administration are facing charges for their roles in the crisis.
Sadly, Flint is not the only city with high levels of lead in its drinking water, or with other infrastructure challenges.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency in three counties as officials monitor a leaking wastewater pond at a former fertilizer plant that could unleash a 20-foot wall of water within minutes if one of its walls collapses. Hundreds of homes have been evacuated and more than 30 million gallons of wastewater a day have been pumped into Tampa Bay.
It shouldn’t take crises like those in Flint or Tampa to spur Congress to make significant investments in infrastructure, far beyond roads and bridges.