Now THAT’S Infrastructure! Of God And Bridges…

This is one of those times someone is bound to say, “There are no coincidences!” Today, President Biden was scheduled to come to Pittsburgh to talk about infrastructure. God, apparently in an Old Testament mood, decided to collapse a bridge in Pittsburgh, sending a bus and several cars into a ravine. In a New Testament mood, he chose that relatively sparsely used bridge, the Fern Hollow Bridge in the area of South Braddock and Forbes avenues, and let it go before 7 a.m., when the traffic was light. But the point was made, or should have been. Whether Joe will get that point, whether the public will wake up to it, and whether the news media will try to paper it over, is too early to tell.

Biden’s (barely) bipartisan infrastructure bill this was passed November with a price tag of $1.2 trillion dollars, more than the GDP of Mexico. Nonetheless, that’s still less than a study I oversaw in the 1980s for the U.S. Chamber of Congress calculated was needed then to address our massive infrastructure rot. So one would think, wouldn’t one?, that the bill that finally was passed would at least direct all of its money to the infrastructure—you know, roads, bridges, airports, mass transit, pipelines, the power grid, waterways, railways, sewage systems, that kind of stuff. It would still be inadequate, but it would be a start. But much of the Democratic base is being deluded into thinking that infrastructure spending is really social spending, or should be. Thus MSNBC’s Joy Reid called the bill a “white guy employment act.”

Also ironically and maybe not a coincidence was Fox News gadfly Tucker Carlson last night pointing out that Biden’s and his party’s concept of “infrastructure” is Infrastructure Lite. He said in part,

[T]oday the Transportation Department, which is now run by Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, finally told us the answer. Effective immediately, we learned this country will undergo a “paradigm shift” in the way we think about infrastructure. 

Now, hold on a minute. As you probably noticed by this point, the moment paradigms start shifting, you can be certain a whole lot of people are about to get shafted. Nothing personal. It’s just the nature of paradigms. They don’t just shift. They tend to topple over and crush innocent bystanders. And this paradigm, of course, is no different….

According to the new paradigm we learned about today, infrastructure is no longer about roads and bridges and airports and train stations and things you might actually use in the course of your life. We could fix those things, but why bother? Mayor Pete has better ideas…” we’re not just talking about buildings and roads and bridges, all that important stuff as well, but we’re talking about the safety of our children, the safety of our families.” 

It deeply understands. We’re not just talking about things you care about anymore. Mr. and Mrs. America, those stupid buildings and roads and bridges, things that you can touch. We’re talking about bigger things now. We’re talking about vast structural problems…Things like “the safety of our children” and our families. 

Carlson is being unfair because that’s what he does, but he’s not completely wrong. As many commentators have pointed out, that huge bill called lots of things “infrastructure” that were not, like charging stations for all those electric cars that aren’t being driven. By the time all of the pork, waste and touchy-feely projects are subtracted, what was earmarked for real infrastructure was much less than 1.2 trillion, which was not enough even if it was all devoted to infrastructure. Carlson detailed just some of the infrastructure problems that have cropped up since the bill was passed, and noted, accurately, that 46,000 of the more than 617,000 bridges in this country have been determined to be “structurally deficient.” ( 43% of all public roadways in this country are graded to be “in poor or mediocre condition.”)

Bridges falling down terrify me, and should terrify everyone. I would assume, if I assumed that those running the country were competent, that the second money was available, all those “structurally deficient” bridges would be the top priority. But the Department of Transportation doesn’t seem to think they are.

The fact is that we could have a bridge collapse in this country every day. That we don’t is just moral luck.

Or divine intervention.

10 thoughts on “Now THAT’S Infrastructure! Of God And Bridges…

  1. “Thus MSNBC’s Joy Reid called the bill a “white guy employment act.””

    I mean, I suppose it’s possible that she doesn’t really think the infrastructure is falling apart and therefore considers the bill unnecessary spending… This seems like it’s crossing into cartoonish self-parody for the Democrat-affiliated ideologues, though, especially because they’d be all for infrastructure spending if construction work had barely any white guys in it. It seems like the reasoning process is as follows:

    1. The government needs to invest in maintaining infrastructure
    2. The people the government would hire to maintain infrastructure are mostly white
    3. Eh, I guess we didn’t really need that infrastructure after all

    If they want a more diverse construction workforce, that’s a separate problem. My head exploded trying to find the words to express the amount of contempt this line of reasoning deserves from everyone.

      • I’m not strongly against term limits, but I’m not sure they’d help with incentives as well as people think they will. Would a politician really be more likely to make constructive, long-term decisions if there’s no possibility of them getting reelected? Term limits don’t seem sufficient to incentivize good decision-making.

        I also hope they’re not necessary, or else we’d only ever get things done when enough people are lame ducks. If we limit everyone to one term, then no one will have much experience, which could admittedly make corruption more difficult.

        What kind of term limits are you thinking of, and what effect would they have on this problem?

        • Trump didn’t know $#!T about what he was getting into and yet was remarkably effective despite the unrelenting hate leveled against him for four years including bogus impeachments to hamstring him.

          Legislating is about compromise and will not be adversely affected by term limits. It is not complicated.
          There will always be enough people with experience to help the newcomers, just like now.

          “I also hope they’re not necessary, or else we’d only ever get things done when enough people are lame ducks.”
          Right, and things are going like clockwork now.

          The bureaucratic administrative complex (akatheswamp) must be gradually dissolved but for some reason continues to metastasize under the current paradigm. Term limits are worth a try and can always be tweaked or eliminated altogether. There is considerably more upside than down.

          I leave the details up to others more learned than me but off the top of my head I would start with two terms for Senate and 2-3 for House.
          Our Founders did not intend for professional politicians and probably did not foresee.

      • The reason representatives and senators become entrenched for *decades* is because the risk to voters of one stripe to try out a new candidate for their “team” is too great because of the over-valued status of that single seat.

        “Our guy” might not be as good or in touch as this potential new guy, but the odds are that “our incumbent guy” is more likely to beat the opposition’s challenger than the potential new guy is. And when the seat we’re voting on represents 750,000+ people, that’s not a risk we’re willing to take.

        Now, I think when any one seat’s authority is diluted significantly – like say one representative per 150,000 voters – the risk of using a “new guy” is much lower. AND each seat is less expensive to run for so a lot of options more “in touch” would be able to run.

        Less risk all around.

    • Didn’t Barack Obama promise “shovel-ready” jobs only to laugh when it was pointed out at some ritzy applausefest for him that they put all the money into women getting office jobs at construction companies….or something (I may be misremembering the details)?

  2. I’m curious why some states have much better infrastructure than others. Do the good infrastructure states have representatives that lobby on behalf of their constituents better than the bad ones? Or are they just less corrupt? Compare Florida and Louisiana, for example. Florida’s roads and bridges seem well maintained, while Louisiana looks like it is about to collapse at any second. Both states are impacted by hurricanes, but one complains incessantly when a hurricane visits, and the other just quickly fixes whatever broke. If the federal government is in charge of infrastructure, why is there such a huge discrepancy in outcomes between states?

    • The states are largely responsible for their own infrastructure. The federal government provides a lot of money (they do have the money printers, after all), but priorities are generally managed at the state and local level. States with a high level of endemic corruption like Louisiana and Illinois tend to have more misplaced priorities, thanks to cronyism, bribery, etc. The money ends up lining pockets instead of paving roads.

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