Editorial

The Observer-Reporter building in Washington

The American Society of Civil Engineers puts out a report card every four years that gives letter grades to the country’s infrastructure and, without fail, the results are dispiriting, painting the picture of a United States that is shabby and rundown.

The 2021 report card gives the country’s infrastructure an overall grade of a C-minus. Passing, sure, but barely. Our aviation system and schools each get a D-plus, our roads earn a D, our drinking water gets a C-minus and our bridges get a C.

This from the country that stood like a colossus after World War II and helped repair the rest of the world.

Frankly, most of us don’t give a whole lot of thought to our infrastructure until we’ve hit a pothole, are trapped in a traffic jam, the power goes out or a water main breaks. But having an infrastructure that’s creaking, straining and showing its age does more than just cause personal inconvenience – it impedes the overall performance of our economy, putting us at a disadvantage when we’re matched against our competitors in the developed world.

In 2002, the World Economic Forum put the United States’ infrastructure in fifth place worldwide. It’s slipped over the last two decades to No. 13, lagging behind Japan, Spain, Germany, Britain and other nations. European countries spend about 5% of their gross domestic products on building and repairing infrastructure, while we spend somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.4%. The amount we spend on infrastructure has been going down for the last 50 years

Some lawmakers have long recognized the need to upgrade our infrastructure, but proposals to confront the problem have come a cropper due to the price tag, the prospect of tax hikes, or the ease of putting off big problems for another day. President Biden came to the Carpenters Pittsburgh Training Center in Collier Township on Wednesday to unveil a super-sized plan to upgrade bridges, fix roads, modernize water systems and bring broadband to every American. It won’t come cheap – the cost could come to more than $2 trillion, with Biden proposing that it be paid for through tax hikes on corporations and individuals making over $400,000 per year.

It will take months and months of sausage-making before an infrastructure plan gets to Biden’s desk, even if it does get that far, and it seems probable that some items will be removed and some its ambitions curtailed. But give Biden credit for realizing the depth of the problem and the willingness to take action to solve it.

“It is not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Biden said. “It is a once-in-a-generation investment in America.”

Proponents of the plan say it will create jobs, and infrastructure spending does have a multiplier effect. A study by the University of Maryland found that $3 is added to the growth of the gross domestic product for every $1 spent. Biden’s plan is pricey, but the American Society of Civil Engineers has said we need to spend upwards of $13 trillion over the next 20 years or so to get our infrastructure fully up to snuff. Looked at in that light, Biden’s plan is not that extravagant.

Polls have shown that the American public supports infrastructure investments and there’s no doubt that it’s needed. It’s time for Congress to follow Biden’s lead and act.

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