Opinion

New deal or no deal for infrastructure crisis

By Tom Pierson, Federal Way Chamber CEO

It was just a little less than a year ago when I was driving my family across Minnesota when I witnessed something I never thought I would see.

Just 500 yards in front of me, the bridge crossing the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed; people scrambling for their lives; many did not see another day.

It’s very hard for me to ignore that vision in my mind or the fact that our national infrastructure failed that day, and continues failing today.

We need a better response; we need a better commitment of resources. We could use these things now.

In regards to questions about Washington state’s lack of transportation funding, state lawmakers often respond that one-time federally funded projects are now nearly entirely the state’s responsibility, and that the state budget simply does not have any additional funds for necessary fixes.

If there’s to be additional funding for our infrastructure, lawmakers suggest “alternative funding initiatives” — a very necessary and basic point that, sorely, my business colleagues and I are coming to accept.

Public-private partnership programs, while often heralded as the savior of all “alternative funding initiatives,” are seldom defined. More seldom do they materialize, and even less frequently are they implemented.

What we need instead is what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called the New Deal; what we need is a new New Deal to address our nation’s suffering bridges, roadways and other vital but problematic infrastructures.

The New Deal is synonymous with success — the success of the federal government’s ability to stimulate the economy through broad public works programs, and the success to rebuild and reform our national infrastructure through these enormous and necessary projects.

Like FDR’s initiative, such an undertaking will provide much-needed relief to our economy.

We are nowhere near the level of economic crisis experienced in the 1930s, but we are at a period in time where there is a great transfer of wealth under way, where the need to invest in our nation has never been higher.

Despite the success of FDR’s New Deal, it wasn’t until 1956 that our national roads were even considered.

More than a half-century has passed since President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Federal-Aid Highway Act built the roads and infrastructure it supported; the system is in dire need of upkeep, repair and reconstruction.

The economic fallout from infrastructure failure is seen nationwide: The fires in California, the recent closures of Interstate 5 due to flood damage, and the repeated closures of Interstate 90 due to heavy snow bring commerce to a grinding halt, resulting in the estimated loss of more than $20 million a day.

When will our public servants come together on the federal and state level and put critical needs first and make the much-needed investment in our infrastructure? When will we reinvest in the United States of America?

History has proven that we have the capability to employ, and unite, thousands of our countrymen in times of need.

When will our country’s cries for help be answered — so we can stand united once more?

New deal or no deal? Either way, we are going to have to face our nation’s critical infrastructure issues.

The question is what kind of major catastrophe will it take to get our national leaders to step up with a “New Deal” that marries need and necessity.

Tom Pierson is Federal Way Chamber of Commerce CEO. Contact: (253) 838-2605 or tomp@federalwaychamber.com.

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