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.