Motorists and vehicles were plunged into the cold waters of Skagit River in Washington after witnesses say an 18-wheeler carrying an oversize load hit part of the Interstate Highway 5 bridge, causing the bridge to collapse Thursday evening. Other witnesses say they saw girders falling.
Three people were rescued from the water and no one died, according to officials.
According to the National Bridge Inventory Database, the bridge was deemed “functionally obsolete” as recently as 2010, but this does not necessarily mean it was unsafe. Specifically, they use the designation “to describe a bridge that is no longer by design functionally adequate for its task.” The report indicates that the I-5 Skagit bridge: “Transitions: Does not meet currently acceptable standards.” The bridge was built in 1955.
Accidents happen, and we’re awaiting the official investigation into the bridge failure. But its frightening collapse serves as an urgent reminder that we’ve fallen way behind on infrastructure. Take a look at our public construction spending (TLPBLCONS) as percentage of GDP, via FRED:
According to a policy paper written for the nonpartisan public policy institute New America Foundation in June of 2008:
America’s basic infrastructure is outdated, worn, and in some cases, failing. Most experts agree that it is inadequate for meeting the demands of the 21st-century global economy. If we are to remain competitive, we must invest in capital assets like roads, ports, bridges, mass transit, water systems, and broadband infrastructure. Many other countries-both rich and poor-see investing in infrastructure as imperative for economic survival and success in an increasingly competitive economic environment. But the United States has lagged in infrastructure investment, in both relative and absolute terms. We are spending less than 2 percent of GDP on infrastructure, while China and India are spending 9 percent and 5 percent of GDP, respectively.
So President Obama had what seemed like a pragmatic idea. Why not put Americans to work fixing our outdated infrastructure, thereby creating jobs and aiding our economic survival by staying competitive. On September 8, 2011, before a joint session of Congress, President Obama introduced the American Jobs Act, which would have invested $741.1 million in highway and transit infrastructure in the state of Washington alone, and created 9,600 jobs. It was designed to make immediate investments in infrastructure, modernizing our roads and put hundreds of thousands of workers back on the job. (Read more here.)
On October 11, 2011 it failed to get the 60 votes needed to move anything forward in the Senate, thanks to filibustering Republicans, so Obama broke it down into little pieces.
One of those pieces was the Rebuild America Jobs Act, S. 1769 rebuilding and modernizing America, would have spent $50 billion on transportation infrastructure projects and $10 billion to fund an infrastructure bank. It failed in a 51-49 vote for cloture on November 3, 2011. It was going to be funded with a 0.7% tax on Americans earning more than $1 million per year.
These projects were billed as shovel-ready. It’s possible that one of them would have addressed the issues with the Skagit River bridge (even if those issues didn’t cause the collapse), but if not that bridge, maybe the one in Minnesota, or maybe the next bridge to go. America is crumbling as Republicans refuse to invest any money in her.
Republicans continue to allow our infrastructure to fall victim to their petty obstructionism tactics. You might be thinking that infrastructure is a Democratic issue, that only Democrats want to drive on safe roads and have bridges that are maintained while putting Americans to work. But that wasn’t always true.
Ironically, the idea of creating a National Infrastructure Bank was proposed in 2007 by former Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and then Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), to help fund infrastructure via private and public capital.
But you won’t be seeing any bipartisan action on infrastructure, because it’s more important for Republicans to obstruct President Obama than it is to protect our nation’s citizens from failing infrastructure. This means that Republicans are forcibly pushing America to the bottom in ability to compete with other nations, but that too is fine with them – so long as they hamper President Obama. Not because they disagree with him on policy, but because they took a vow to destroy him and disempower his presidency before he ever took office.
Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) should be looking back at the Republican refusal to even consider the American Jobs Act and rethinking yet again his failure to change the filibuster rules in the Senate. It’s not about partisan bickering or gamesmanship, as the beltway media likes to frame it — this is about American lives, and the obstructionism needs to stop.