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America’s Economic Bedrock: Our Infrastructure
Largely ignored in the national debate about the looming “fiscal cliff” -- the massive, across-the-board cut in the Federal budget scheduled to take effect in January -- is the greater threat of allowing the bedrock of America's long-term economic strength to crumble, if we sacrifice investment in our basic infrastructure. It is time we recognize that if the needs of our aging highways and bridges, water and waste water treatment needs, and broadband access were only addressed, we would not only grow the economy, we would also sustain and create jobs and help balance the budget.
No less an authority than the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), with its periodic report cards, has painted a very dismal portrait of the state of our Nation’s infrastructure. Across our country, ASCE warns that our aging water pipes are leaking an estimated 7 billion gallons of clean drinking water a day. Talk about water down the drain! This is water that American consumers, companies and towns, cities and counties have already paid to have treated so that it will be drinkable -- an incredible waste.
In the last report cards issued by ASCE, the 15 infrastructure categories graded earned a Grade Point Average of "D" -- that's deplorable.
Things are so bad that the History Channel even produced a television special entitled “The Crumbling of America.”
The ASCE points out that in West Virginia our drinking water infrastructure will need an investment of $862 million over the next 20 years, and our wastewater treatment facilities will require a whopping $2.52 billion. Add to that, the needs of hundreds of our dams, our bridges and roads and you soon get the picture.
We need to act as a state and a nation to keep strong and secure this most important man-made foundation of America's economic livelihood and quality of life. Poorly maintained infrastructure, like roads, just isn’t a safety hazard for families, it costs business and consumers alike. An estimated 65 percent of the $50 billion of commodities transported from West Virginia is trucked over our State’s highways. Protecting that investment by the private sector translates into jobs.
And consider this: officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation calculate that a $1 billion investment in transportation sustains or creates 34,779 jobs. Further, the Road Information Project reports a Federal Highway Administration estimate that every dollar spent on road, highway, and bridge improvements returns an average benefit of $5.20 by reducing delays, vehicle maintenance costs, fuel consumption, road and bridge maintenance costs, and emissions, as well as improved safety -- all as a result of improved traffic flow.
Congress should take advantage of the next two years of breathing room provided by the passage this summer of the new transportation bill and craft a robust long-term, legislative vehicle to address our Nation’s and West Virginia’s many needs. We have major highway projects to complete, such as Routes 2 and 10, the I-73/74 Tolsia / King Coal Highway, the Coalfields Expressway, and the Z-Way to name a few. We have important transit cornerstones to complete in downtown Beckley and Bluefield. Our airports have plans for growth, and with game changers like the Boy Scouts of America taking root here, infrastructure to meet growing demand is a basic necessity.
Such infrastructure initiatives, in West Virginia and throughout the country, would also help to narrow the growing divide between the two parties in the Congress and assist in bridging the need for a roadmap to compromise so that we can get America moving again. When I first came to Congress and secured a seat on the all-important-to-West Virginia Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, we had a motto: “There are no Democratic or Republican bridges, just American bridges.”
I now serve as the top Democrat on that Committee. From that vantage point, I appreciate that extreme politics is a good attention grabber, but then you have to roll up your sleeves and go to work. The far ends of the political spectrum need to appreciate that compromise is not capitulation; it is a fundamental part of the process that gets things done.
When we address our physical infrastructure, we provide a solid foundation for the twin pillars of education and innovation to rise above and help Americans reach new heights.
These initiatives I am advocating are nothing new. In fact, they are tried and true tonics for ailing economies and proven job producers.
It is not too late for Congress to recall its successes of the past to pave a solid roadway for our Country’s future.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) represents West Virginia’s 3rd District
For more information contact: Diane Luensmann (202) 225-3452