Pennsylvania needs infrastructure spending on a massive scale — far more than the $4 billion budgeted this year. One in four bridges here is considered structurally deficient. Roads are pocked with potholes. Bridge abutments are crumbling. You know it as well as I do.
Not too many years ago, when I was headed to Pittsburgh from my hometown of Nemacolin, I’d tell people to expect me in about an hour and 10 minutes or so, but with emergency roadwork and tunnel closures and bridge repair and traffic snarls, I might be on the road two hours or even three. Most of the time these days, I tell people not to expect me at all, because I’m not coming. It’s too hard on my vehicle and just not safe.
It’s the same story all over the country. America’s roads and bridges are bad. How bad? Well, the American Association of Civil Engineers gave us a grade. It was a D+. That should be a source of national embarrassment, and fixing it has to be a national priority.
But there’s a silver lining in this cloud, because the investments and work it’ll take to repair and upgrade our infrastructure can create a booming American economy.
But here’s the thing. This investment will only lift our economy if we make it wisely.
We can’t follow the lead of weak politicians who will only pay for roads by cutting other necessary funding.
Nor should we suffer these same politicians to insult and devalue America’s skilled construction workers by outlawing union workers on these jobs, so bottom-rung contractors can get rich by hiring untrained workers who don’t know how to build safe bridges and lasting roads.
Smart investments will produce good jobs and quality public infrastructure, and will lift our entire economy in the process.
But some politicians work for conservative ideologies, not the American people. Those politicians don’t care about public investments. They want to make a political investment, using tax dollars to abolish the prevailing wage laws that protect America’s workers, families and communities. These politicians are trying to do this right now, all over the country, including in Pennsylvania.
Lowering wages is a bad idea for everyone, except the billionaires and the right wing. Maybe they commute by helicopter or something. They don’t care about our bridges falling down. If these politicians understood good business or real leadership, they’d know that long-term growth comes from raising wages, period. They’d know the best way to build something isn’t to take the short cut, but to build it right the first time.
This summer, America has reached a crisis with the federal Highway Trust Fund. It is literally running out of money. This crisis must not continue, because the interstate highway system is the backbone of the nation’s economy.
The politicians who say America can’t create jobs and afford safe bridges, good highways, smart energy grids and high-speed rail must be willfully ignorant about business, about real life and about the American economy.
Putting money in quality roads and bridges will yield solid returns for decades to come. President Eisenhower knew this when he kick-started America’s interstate highway system in the 1950s. It’s still true today.
America needs to invest trillions to rebuild our old infrastructure, and we should invest trillions more in smart-energy grids, high-speed rail and much more. The financial cost is low compared with the public good from spurring American manufacturing, especially with strong Buy America provisions to create more good jobs in our communities. It’ll promote prosperity for our neighborhoods and communities all the way to Main Street and even Wall Street.
America’s families will be able to trust our infrastructure again, and businesses will be more competitive with good roads, with deep seaports, quality transit and better bridges — and the place to start is the federal Highway Trust Fund. The time to start is now.
All over Pennsylvania, I hear people say they’re really looking hard at the politicians who keep saying, “We can’t.” The truth is, maybe they can’t. But we can.
Richard Trumka is president of the AFL-CIO.