Thursday, August 09, 2007

Stampeding over a collapsed bridge

Even as the work continues and the sixth body is removed from the river, the politics of the 35W bridge collapse are starting to heat up. Frankly, it's beginning to feel like a stampede.

Yesterday our old pal James Oberstar, the wizened Iron Ranger who has managed through seniority and attrition to become one of the most powerful Congressmen in Washington, announced that he was going to seek a 5 cent per gallon increase in the gasoline tax to fund infrastructure. This would be on top of whatever increase the state might add in a special legislative session. The ever-earnest Oberstar swears that the federal increase would be "only" for 3 years. But that's not how it works in Washington - as I recall, the AMT was a temporary measure as well, but it's still on the books and has been steadily capturing more and more unsuspecting taxpayers since its introduction in the late 1960s.

You can make an argument that the nation's infrastructure has been neglected. The 35W bridge actually looked better to my untrained eye than many other bridges I've traveled over the years; if you want to see a really scary bridge, take the U.S. 52 bridge over the Mississippi at Savanna, IL some time. I have seen estimates that it would take something like $1.3 trillion to bring the current infrastructure "up to code." If we think doing this is a priority, we're talking Marshall Plan type numbers.

But here is the question - is it necessary? While the 35W bridge collapse was a horrific event, does it follow that we're going to see a whole bunch of other bridges collapse in the near future? Or, more likely, will this one event cause local governments throughout the nation to step up their efforts to monitor and repair the infrastructure they have jurisdiction over? And will these repairs require an increase in the gasoline tax? Or could the money come from judicious cuts of other programs, like (to use local examples) the subsidies for the Guthrie Theater and the new Twins ballpark?

I know, it's impolitic to ask these sorts of questions, especially in the wake of a tragedy. It's "playing politics" and it's crass. Only Democrats are allowed to do these things. By the way, have we put Carol Molnau on the pyre yet? C'mon, c'mon, it's getting late.


Anonymous said...

The problem is that highway money, that is money that is supposed to used to build and maintain roads, is used for other things.

Mass transit for some reason, can never support itself, so money gets diverted. That's only one area. It amazing how highway money gets spent. Specific use taxes should be spent on a specfic use, but not in America, where supposedly well intentioned politicians know what better for the people than the people themselves. The bottom line is that if highway money was spent building and maintaining highways, we'd have a lot less of problem. That light rail system sure is pretty!

On a slightly related matter, it does seem that when roads are built the price is too high. How come every construction site seems to have three guys watching for every one person that is actually working. Thank you union labor.

We reap what we sew!

Mark said...

True dat, anonymous. Although remember, the operative terms for the light rail line are "nifty" and "cool."