Why U.S. infrastructure can’t wait
On a warm August evening in 2007, a steel plate on an Interstate 35W bridge in Minnesota ripped along a line of rivets, and crashed into the Mississippi River. It took rescuers nearly three weeks to recover all 14 of the victims’ bodies buried beneath the rubble.
Many of us remember a similar tragedy right here in Connecticut, when three lanes of the Mianus River Bridge on Interstate 95 collapsed into the shallow waters below, killing three motorists – a tragedy that would have been much worse if it had happened during rush hour rather than in the middle of the night. Shockingly, 338 of Connecticut’s 4,214 bridges are classified as structurally deficient, meaning that, like the I-35W and Mianus River bridges, they have one or more significant defects. Nationwide, there are about 56,000 structurally deficient bridges.
Decades of underinvestment in America’s infrastructure have led to safety threats and economic losses across the United States. Our roads are filled with potholes, costing commuters on average $520 a year in repair costs. Our highways have not always kept up with changing vehicle needs or traffic demands. And in many cities, our transit and commuter rail lines suffer from frequent delays and breakdowns.
The systems that allow us to travel from place to place, provide us with drinking water or dispose of waste are not luxuries that would be nice to have some day. They are essentials.
An investment in infrastructure is an investment in safety, jobs and the competitiveness of American-owned businesses. We cannot run a 21st-century economy on a mid-20th-century infrastructure. According to Congressional Budget Office estimates, every dollar invested in infrastructure generates as much as $2.50 in economic growth within the following year-and-a-half.
That is the best multiplier of all major federal programs. And it’s why we can’t put off overdue projects like replacing the Mixmaster in Waterbury – an urgent need for not only our community but for drivers throughout the Northeast.
Though replacing the Mixmaster will be expensive, multiple studies project it would create as many as 11,000 short-term construction jobs, result in $8.8 billion in new business sales, and lead to $4.5 billion in additional wages over the next 25 to 30 years. That’s a federal down payment on Connecticut’s economic future. On the other hand, if we wait, commuters will continue to waste hours each day stuck in traffic on an unsafe interchange that will without question have to be replaced someday – at an even higher cost.
From my time on the Cheshire Town Council, continuing through my service in the Connecticut legislature and now in Congress, I have spoken out for fiscal responsibility – sometimes placing me at odds with my fellow Democrats.
But fiscal responsibility doesn’t mean we put off essential projects because they’re expensive. It means we spend the money to prevent bridges from collapsing instead of rebuilding them after they’ve collapsed. And it means we stretch every taxpayer dollar as far as we can.
In Congress, where I serve as vice ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I’m fighting not only to get federal funding for vital projects like the Mixmaster, but also to make sure funds are spent as efficiently as possible through streamlined permitting and other time- and cost-saving measures.
Every day we fail address the gap between the systems we have and the systems we need, the gap gets wider and the costs go up. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, if the investment gap in transportation and infrastructure is not addressed by 2025, the economy will lose nearly $4 trillion in gross domestic product, resulting in a net loss of about 2.5 million jobs.
We need a bipartisan, comprehensive strategy to repair our infrastructure. That plan must include upgrading our roads and bridges to reduce congestion and improve safety, modernizing our rail systems so people can travel easily between their homes and their jobs, and making long-overdue repairs to the systems we rely on for clean drinking water.
President Trump has promised to release the outline of his own infrastructure plan in the next several weeks.
I share his belief that infrastructure investment should be an immediate priority. We have an opportunity to create good-paying jobs, grow our economy, and improve safety for families across the country. Let’s not waste it.
Rep. Elizabeth H. Esty, D-5th District, lives in Cheshire.