A Bridge Between Us

June 27, 2021

by Steve Stofka

We are social creatures, our brains wired for comparing our situation with those around us. Children look only at the height of liquid in a glass and reason that the higher level is “more.” We understand tall and big and a lot. As our brains mature, our primitive understanding of equity evolves – a little. This week, a coalition of Senators reached an agreement in principle to spend money on infrastructure, a solution that has frustrated several presidents before Biden.

In 2007 the I-35W bridge in Minnesota collapsed. In March 2009, at the lowest point in the financial crisis, the American Society of Civil Engineers released their quadrennial report card on the nation’s infrastructure (2009). During the decade, infrastructure had slipped from a ‘D+’ to a ‘D.’ With millions out of work, the public and then President Obama hoped that the Congress could assemble an infrastructure bill. Couldn’t the government give money on a per capita basis to each state and let them spend the money on needed repairs and building projects? Less populous states argued against that idea. In the end, nothing happened.

In 1985, Congressman James Howard and Colorado Senator Gary Hart introduced versions of a National Infrastructure Act that died in the Committee on Environment and Public Works. In the decade from 1971-81, Howard noted that spending on infrastructure had declined by 50% (1985). Republicans held the Senate and Presidency; Democrats held the House. Other infrastructure bills have died in that same committee.

The U.S. built the nation’s interstate highways to deploy weapon systems in case of an attack from Soviet Russia. Without that direct threat, our elected representatives have been unable to coordinate unified action. Our federalist system promotes impotence, an antiquated political structure that will cause the U.S. to take a back seat on the global stage, according to China’s leader Xi Jinping. After fifty years of ineptitude, will the U.S. Congress and White House prove Xi wrong?

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Photo by Manny Ribera on Unsplash

American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). (2009). 2009 report card for America’s infrastructure. doi:10.1061/9780784410370

Howard, J. (1985, January 01). The national infrastructure act. Retrieved June 26, 2021, from https://cedb.asce.org/CEDBsearch/record.jsp?dockey=0043747

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