Perhaps next time the 70,000 deficient bridges should lead the speech?February 21, 2013
By Stephen Lee Davis
The White House put out a press release on the President’s plan for infrastructure that was introduced at the State of the Union last week, and though it’s still short on details, it does start to paint a picture of what the President intends. The three major thrusts of the plan are investing in a “fix-it-first” policy, attracting private investment through a “Rebuild America Partnership”, and a plan to cut red tape and speed up the timeframe for transportation projects.
The New York Times had a short story on the President’s plan Wednesday after getting an early copy of the release in which a pair of frequent T4 America collaborators responded to the Times on the plan. Rob Puentes from the Brookings Institution and Phineas Baxandall from US PIRG were both cautiously optimistic, though Puentes noted one of the biggest differences between this plan and the President’s plan for the transportation bill of a couple years ago is that “‘the important shift seems to be the administration is not waiting for the legislature,’ but is ‘maximizing the things they can do themselves.’”
While the idea of private capital flowing to new infrastructure projects, an infrastructure bank and cutting red tape are well and good, the idea of “Fix-It-First” is definitely a popular one with voters across the board.
According to data from a Public Opinion Strategies/Hart Research poll from 2011, 86% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the idea of establishing “a ‘fix-it-first’ policy that focuses, as much as possible, on maintaining our existing networks of roads, bridges, and public transportation systems before building new ones.”
When faced with the choice of either expanding highways or repairing the valuable infrastructure that we’ve got, it’s no contest.
Maintaining and repairing roads, highways, freeways, and bridges (51%); along with “expanding and improving bus, rail, van service, biking, walking, and other transportation choices” (33%) both win out over “expanding and building new roads, highways, freeways, and bridges,” which was a distant third place with only 16% supporting it in a 2011 national poll.
70,000 deficient bridges is a number that can stop people in their tracks. It certainly stopped Jon Stewart in his tracks on The Daily Show after the State of the Union, urging Stewart to give the President some advice in hindsight for the speech:
“70,000 structurally deficient?!? I mean, come on! Shouldn’t you have opened with that!”
Even a large portion of the news coverage following the State of the Union honed in on that 70,000 number, and more than a few outlets returned to our report chronicling the state of our country’s deficient bridges. In fact, 35 times! more people viewed our interactive map of deficient U.S. bridges on the week of the State of the Union compared to the week before.
$40 billion for repairing our existing infrastructure is a step in the right direction, though, as with many big sweeping policy proposals emanating from Washington, the devil is in the details. And in the days to come, we’ll see how serious the President is about pushing this policy forward into Congress, a body that incidentally just voted to eliminate all dedicated bridge repair funding in the new MAP-21 transportation law last summer.
Fixing our infrastructure and taking care of our past obligations first is a popular idea with voters. Will Congress take note?