As the Romans made quite clear, the transportation infrastructure of an empire is critical to its economy and military success. The Romans famously made roads, bridges and aqueducts that are still in use today. Like the Romans, the United States constructed a massive infrastructure of roads and bridges. Unlike the Romans, we did not build ours quite so well.
On August 1, 2007 the I35W Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. This collapse dramatically showed the poor state of the nations bridges. This event led to a study of America’s bridges and the finding that it will take over $140 billion to get them in proper order. This figure does not include roads.
The bridge problem obviously did not appear over night. The United States has been largely ignoring the problem and allowing our infrastructure to crumble and become unsafe. Given the danger of unsafe roads and bridges, it seems clear that these repairs need to be made. After all, having people die in bridge collapses seems to be clearly unacceptable. Further, there is the economic argument: much of America’s economy depends on transportation and a poor infrastructure is thus harmful to the economy.
The obvious problem is, of course, the funding. The United States is hemorrhaging cash into Iraq and Afghanistan and this is depleting the Treasury. We are also dumping vast sums of money into the rest of the war on terror, although we seem to be getting very little for our money.
Of course, if the government was taking in adequate amounts of money, we could afford these repairs. Unfortunately, taxes have been cut and the stimulus plan has been sending tax money back to the tax payers. In order to get the cash we need, we have been taking loans from foreign countries, such as China. China, as many will recall, has a human rights record that is rather bad and has been hostile to the United States since it went communist (or what passes for communism).
While I do not enjoy paying taxes and I quickly spent the stimulus check (on credit card debt from my divorce), I recognize that we need to pay for these bridge repairs. Although I drive as little as possible, I accept that a safe and effective infrastructure is a social good and I am willing to pay more taxes for it. Of course, I would like my money to be used wisely or at least with minimal waste, graft and corruption. Naturally, I’d like other people to contribute as well-especially the folks who are extremely wealthy. I would certainly rather avoid borrowing more money from China and other countries. Such debt is harmful to the United States and merely postpones the inevitable financial reckoning.
We need to do the obvious: spend well and increase revenue. By spending well I do not just mean being financially careful but also spending in a way that is morally correct. That is, the tax money should be used for the general good. While there are vast opportunities for pork, graft and corruption in any plan to fix the nation’s bridges, this is something that should be done. The fixing that is. We could really do without the pork, graft and corruption.