Sometimes the biggest issues just aren’t exciting enough to get the attention they deserve.
Take the nation’s infrastructure for example. Even before the national economy went into the tank it had become increasingly obvious that not enough work was being done on the government basics we depend upon every day, such as roads, bridges, water and sewer lines. Then when the economic crunch hit, governments were forced to cut back even more, abandoning badly needed maintenance and repair programs in favor of other priorities that were perhaps more likely to capture the public’s attention.
And so the infrastructure worsens.
We’ve seen perfect examples close to home in recent weeks, as an unusually rainy spring has resulted in washed out roads, culverts overwhelmed by water volume, drainage systems that can’t meet demand and significant needs for money to be funneled to infrastructure repairs and improvements.
But it’s not just here at home, or in Georgia. The problem is nationwide.
Sparked by last month’s collapse of a bridge in the state of Washington, a congressional subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee will begin discussions next week of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and what can be done to address the problem.
The first step is to make everyone understand a problem exists, which is hard to do when dealing with things the public takes for granted but never really thinks about.
The American Society of Civil Engineers issues an annual “report card” on the nation’s infrastructure. This year’s grade was a D+, and came with a recommendation that the nation needs to invest some $3.6 trillion in infrastructure by 2020.
In Georgia, for example, the ASCE found that 6 percent of the bridges in Georgia are considered to be structurally deficient, and nearly 13 percent are functionally obsolete. It also found that 19 percent of the state’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and that vehicle repairs caused by driving on roads in need of repair cost Georgia motorists some $374 million a year.
The same report noted that Georgia’s schools have an estimated $5.2 billion in infrastructure needs.
Now there is no doubt that such numbers are subjective, and professional engineers might be expected to recommend work that means more money to be spent with engineers. That said, however, it’s hard to ignore what we can see firsthand, and this year’s rains have made existing shortcomings obvious.
As we slowly, ever so slowly, begin to emerge from the economic tsunami of the past few years, it’s going to be hard to ask taxpayers for more money to be spent on some of the most basic of governmental services.
In truth we know that there is a lot of public money spent on less essential needs than infrastructure, but convincing those in power to shift those allocations from special interest projects with which some are enamored to more mundane needs may prove a tough political battle to fight.
The issue is one that is fast becoming a priority for governments at every level, from Washington, D.C. to state capitols and local city halls. Re-investing in infrastructure isn’t a campaign slogan likely to get many politicians re-elected, but it is an essential role of government service that must be undertaken sooner rather than later.