Every four years the American Society of Civil Engineers publishes a report card on the state of every aspect of our infrastructure, including our roads, bridges, dams, and drinking water. The cumulative grade for our nation’s infrastructure has not risen above a D+ since 1988. This is unacceptable. And it could lead to a tragedy – the kind of tragedy Minnesotans know all too well.
Ten years have passed since 13 people were killed and 145 more were injured when the Interstate 35W bridge spanning the Mississippi in the heart of Minneapolis collapsed into the waters below. Today, Minnesotans across the state and the nation will join in commemorating those we lost so unexpectedly.
In response to the bridge collapse in 2007, leaders from all levels of government – including President George W. Bush, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak – promptly responded by bringing together resources for relief efforts, and Congress immediately appropriated $250 million to build a replacement bridge. MnDOT expeditiously completed the bridge within a year, and it opened to traffic in September of 2008.
Minnesota’s resolve didn’t stop there. In the last 10 years, the state has invested billions in infrastructure projects to fix our riskiest bridges. Minnesota now has some of the safest bridges in the country.
But it shouldn’t take such a tragedy for us to act. Rather than govern by crisis, we must come together and upgrade our infrastructure so it will serve us for generations to come.
Minnesota’s business leaders know that investment in infrastructure is good for their businesses and their workers – and they want to see more of it. According to MnDOT, the absence of Minneapolis’ downtown river crossing in the wake of the 35W bridge collapse cost Minnesota’s economy over $60 million.
An equity issue
Investing in our multimodal transportation network is also about creating a more equitable and just community. Studies show that commute time is the primary determinant in whether an individual is able to escape poverty. If we want to be a just society where upward mobility is genuinely possible, then it is essential that we develop fast and reliable infrastructure so that working people are not one traffic jam away from being late to work and losing their job.
The Trump administration has talked a lot about infrastructure. Unfortunately, we are still waiting for a concrete, coherent proposal. What we do know is that the president is interested in attracting private investment to fund our needs. This would be a catastrophic step toward putting a public good in the hands of private entities that could freely impose tolls and fees on users – putting profits over people. If enacted, the president’s budget would sunset the federal government’s role in funding the capital costs of building out transit systems across the country. As a result, shovel-ready transit projects across our country would be left without the crucial federal funding to break ground. Cities and states would then be forced to shelve important projects that have been decades in the making.
From the interstate highway system to air traffic control at airports, to the mass transit that serves our metro areas, Americans expect the federal government to provide and maintain an efficient 21st-century transportation system.
That’s why earlier this year, the Congressional Progressive Caucus released its “21st Century New Deal for Jobs.” This plan would invest $2 trillion over 10 years, employing millions of Americans and resuscitating our infrastructure, which is currently on life support. By imposing a tax on Wall Street transactions and closing corporate tax loopholes that allow big companies to shelter profits overseas, we could easily raise the revenue necessary to move our nation forward.
Beyond roads, bridges, bikeways and transit
Infrastructure goes beyond roads, bridges, bikeways, and transit. It affects all areas of our lives, encompassing our schools, drinking water, wastewater, energy grid, high-speed broadband, and public housing.
Public investment in the infrastructure that we share will pave the way for our collective prosperity and the quality of life for generations to come. Let’s come together and agree that improving our communities is more important than giving tax breaks to the biggest corporations and wealthiest Americans.
Let’s to take this bold step together in honor of those we lost 10 years ago, today.
Rep. Keith Ellison represents Minnesota’s 5th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
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