According to my casual reading last week we had a major train derailment in Sibley, Iowa with somewhere around 47 rails cars dumping all sorts of chemicals on the ground, into a lake and catching on fire thus polluting the atmosphere. The original report was a collapsed bridge. Last I heard the bridge was not the cause, but it did collapse during the event.
Just a couple of days before that a similar derailment took place just north of Albert Lea, Minnesota with a similar number of cars and a similar outcome. In both cases whether I think we will find that if the aging railroad infrastructure didn’t cause the wreck, it probably made it worse.
While these rail lines may seem off the beaten path they are part of a vital network of transportation in this country collectively called the transportation infrastructure. When one piece of this network is offline for a while it will throw much more traffic on an already overburdened system that has little leeway for downtime of any of the parts of the system.
We saw what a mess a transport stuck crosswise in the Suez Canal caused just a couple of weeks ago caused in world transportation. That was not due to an infrastructure problem. But with worldwide commerce dealing with such close times any small error can cause major repercussions.
Now it has been revealed that a bridge on I40 between Memphis, Tennessee and Arkansas has had a major break in one of the beams for several years. So part of I40 will be shut down probably for a good long while so the break can be fixed. This will throw a huge amount of traffic unexpectedly on another highway (most likely I55) causing delays and short tempers.
I see as I move around my local area that a few of the roads that needed maintenance for the past decade are finally getting some attention. Will they be getting some cosmetic touch ups or real fixes? Hard to think there will be the needed full repairs in most cases because more than fix roads, bridges, buildings or water lines, politicians, especially Republicans like o give out tax breaks. Especially tax breaks to those who don’t need tax breaks.
The above examples are the infrastructure damage we can easily see. America is also home to ancient sewer systems and water lines. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that most of our public building need ventilation overhauls – schools especially. With every passing year our electrical grids need upgrading just to keep running, not to get us ready for that next leap forward.
And what was made abundantly clear with the ransom ware attack on the Colonial Pipeline system, the IS (information systems) infrastructure that undergirds all our other systems from missile systems to electrical distribution to transportation is badly in need of analysis and a major overhaul to keep our necessary government and private systems from being attacked.
We need to bring our infrastructure up to snuff for today. That should be job #1. But right on its tail should be to get the country ready for the next generation of changes in our world that will be coming in a relatively short time span. Changes will be coming because of upgrades to our information structures. Changes will be coming due to climate driven needs.
If we don’t bite the bullet finally and make a commitment to ourselves and to the future we will pay for it. We are paying for leaders in previous years refusing to step up and prepare for the future. That is why we are now facing infrastructure crises across the country in so many different areas.
Tax cuts, especially for those who put the most burden on the country’s various systems, should be looked at with scorn. Why should Iowa and local jurisdictions be building new access highways for Walmart when last I saw Walmart was paying little to no tax in Iowa? The same is true of many other major companies in Iowa.
We need all hands on deck to bring this state, and the whole country up to some baseline of infrastructure adequacy. Then we need to determine what direction the country is going and prepare the way. For instance one thing is for sure, a lot of gasoline stations will be closing and we will be needing millions of charging stations fairly soon. Can we meet that challenge?
Today we are at a crossroads. Will the US choose to lead and do the preparation needed? Or will we stay in our current stagnation where money and power aggregates to those at the top through favorable laws that give huge tax breaks to the wealthy and the political realm is fixed through gerrymandering and voter suppression?
Oh BTW. Do you remember that in 2019 Iowa was labeled as the state with the worst bridge infrastructure in the US. To meet that challenge our legislature cut taxes for the wealthy. That won’t fix the bridges, but it will get campaign contributions which will get legislators re-elected. Then in turn we will have legislators that will give out more tax returns.
I propose that Iowa at least post a little prayer on on each bridge entrance something like “O, Most Powerful, Please keep this bridge up for the next minute. Amen!” Much cheaper than fixing those bridges.
All this to say that the country needs to enact the Biden proposals now. We need to stay away from the Republican proposals that will do little more than kick the can down the road once again.