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September 10, 2011 10:35 AM ‘Structurally deficient’

By Steve Benen

Early on in his jobs speech to Congress this week, President Obama made the case for infrastructure. “Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us a economic superpower,” Obama said, adding, “And now we’re going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads? At a time when millions of unemployed construction workers could build them right here in America?”

To drive the point home, the president noted some specific examples: “There are private construction companies all across America just waiting to get to work. There’s a bridge that needs repair between Ohio and Kentucky that’s on one of the busiest trucking routes in North America.”

Hmm, Ohio and Kentucky. Why do those states seem familiar? Perhaps because they’re home to the two most powerful Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. This may have been a coincidence — Obama have just been referring to an area where repairs are sorely needed — and it may have been an attempt to remind GOP leaders that this is an issue that should matter to them, because it sure matters to their constituents.

With this in mind, Travis Waldron and Tanya Somanader had a good piece yesterday, noting that Republicans traditionally supported needed infrastructure improvements, and relied on Bureau of Transportation Statistics to show that Republicans still should.

[The] Republican leadership has continually blocked efforts by Obama and Congressional Democrats to invest in infrastructure improvements, and as a result, bridges and roadways in their states are crumbling. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, about 12 percent of the nation’s bridges are considered “structurally deficient,” the same rating given to the Minneapolis bridge that collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people. Roughly another 12 percent are considered “functionally obsolete.”

In four of the five states represented by Republican congressional leadership, the rate of structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges outpaces the national average.

In John Boehner’s home state of Ohio, 27% of the bridges are either “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.” In Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky, it’s 34%. California, home to House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, has a whopping 976 structurally deficient bridges — and 24 of them are in McCarthy’s district.

Since early 2009, Republican opposition to infrastructure investments has been unyielding. In some cases, we’ve even seen GOP leaders denounce projects they used to support. It’s hard to say what’s motivating the opposition — maybe Republicans believe the public investments will do too much to help the economy? — but at a practical level, it doesn’t much matter. Our crumbling infrastructure needs attention, and GOP officials generally don’t seem to care. There’s free money sitting on the table, ready to be put to good use, Republicans don’t care about that, either.

Perhaps pointing to the problems in their own states and districts will help change their minds? Or is saying no to Obama even more important than improving structurally deficient infrastructure for their own constituents?

Postscript: On a related note, Kevin Drum had a compelling piece this week on his trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, inteded “to make us into a first-world country again.” Good stuff.

Second Update: Reader F.B. reminds me there’s a strong argument that infrastructure investment, right now as opposed to years from now, is the fiscally responsible thing to do.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • kevo on September 10, 2011 10:54 AM:

    Any duly elected representative is committing political malpractice if he or she doesn't strongly and relentlessly advocate for infrastructure projects in his or her particular district. If for no other reason, it shows his or her constituents he or she cares deeply about their physical and economic health!

    Boehner, McConnell and the rest of their Tea Partying Posse are actively entertaining malpractice as they believe they've been elected to do war with the very government they've been elected to to serve their constituencies back home, so those Americans may feel both physically and economically protected!

    Has anyone in the early 21st century Republican party any decency? Have they no souls?

    Don't they care about anyone besides their beloved "jobs creators?" -Kevo

  • stormskies on September 10, 2011 10:55 AM:

    Like Chris Matthews, to his credit has said repeatedly, Obama should go to the actual Congressional districts where there exists a critical need to fix whatever structurally deficient structure exists ........ to stand there .. to point at it ... and then the relevant words about who is blocking this and why ... how many jobs it would generate to fix beyond the obvious issue of public safety ....

    Over and over ......... this will indeed get people's attention .. and place Obama squarely on the side of average Americans ......

    And, by the way, beyond bridges, and roads, pipeline's and the like, there also exist a critical situation in our country concerning private dams that have been built long ago ........and have been neglected for years .. and many of these, in the thousands, could burst just about anytime ..........

  • delNorte on September 10, 2011 11:05 AM:

    Hmm, Ohio and Kentucky. Why do those states seem familiar? Perhaps because they're home to the two most powerful Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. This may have been a coincidence...

    Obama crafts his major speeches like a poet crafting a poem - every word counts to make a point. So, I don't think it was coincidental that he chose those two states.

  • intadmin on September 10, 2011 11:08 AM:

    I don't think it is a mystery why Republicans oppose these problems: "government is the problem, not the solution". Since that is true, logically they don't want Americans to see the government solving any problems. So, they must block the government from solving problems. When the federal government has been drowned the bathtub, the neo-Confederate party will have won Civil War II.

  • FRP on September 10, 2011 11:17 AM:

    Boehner, McConnell and the rest of their Tea Partying Posse are actively entertaining malpractice as they believe they've been elected to do war with the very government they've been elected to to serve their constituencies back home, so those Americans may feel both physically and economically protected!

    Kevo Kevo Kevo

    It is adorable watching you respond to people who have perfected the art of proboscis surgical amputational (sic) wisdom to spite their handsome cum bootifool faces in regimented reason .

    2 3 4

    Now stop it ore you wheel force me to write again .

    Sincerely , Minister of infinite Silliness , adjunct to hizzoner Sen Cornepone McNonsense Esq.

  • bigtuna on September 10, 2011 11:43 AM:

    In the 2009 ARRA debate, the Am. Soc. of Civil Engineers [ASCE] proposed a long term - 20 yr, I think, infrastructure plan, and it included graded project - those in realy desperate need, vs. run of the mill outmoded and mildly unsafe. While a biased group - CE's design and build things, after all, they are not a bunch of lefties.

    But, in order to buy off Snowe, Collins, and Spector, remember we had to keep it to under 900 Bn, and about half of that was in the form of tax breaks. As most readers here know, our economy needs to generate demand, which is generated by people being employed.

    What chaps me is when pundits [aka, morons] claim that such spending wasn't do-able as we couldn't possible get projects going in a short time, lots would go to pork, etc. Every state DOT, Water Resources board, etc. have, or should have, a list of 50 critical projects, with designs ready in 6 mos., to bid out. Anyone in the public works biz can bring 5 projects to the table this Monday am. This is not due to project lust - it is a statement of our pathetic infrastructure. Big bridges on old interstates are a no brainer.

    But, as stated above the new republicanism must adhere to two principles: 1. No govt benefit to working class people, while we must enrich the investment class with lower tax rates than on ordinary income, etc, and - 2. we cannot have govt spending that risks proving govt is successful at something, because we know that govt cannot be successful; ergo, to prove our conceit, we must prevent the govt from spending money, ensuring its failure. reductio ad absurdum ....

  • zandru on September 10, 2011 11:44 AM:

    Republican Districts

    I agree that the President should target needed projects in key Republican districts. BUT - over the last year, I've heard many suggestions that imply ONLY Republican districts should get this juicy pork.

    I'm for infrastructure repair, improvement, and creation. But I'm not in favor of "rewarding bad behavior™" (Republican catch phrase - make a point of using their own terminology against them at every opportunity!)

    The White House should not disproportionately "reward" districts with Republican incumbents, in an effort to curry favor with the voters. One - the voters will then be motivated to favor the incumbent, not necessarily the Democrat or White House, and Two - see "rewarding bad behavior™."

    And Three - why continue to kick your Democratic base in the teeth by only helping the opposition?

  • ken on September 10, 2011 11:49 AM:

    I wish people who write about 'crumbling infrastructure' would stop using that mealy mouthed term and do some research and give actual examples, specific names and places and structures that are 'crumbling'.

    I basically don't believe that the nation is falling apart - and until I see nation wide evidence of actual crumbling bridges and roads - I will remain in doubt.

    It may be true, but I've heard that phrase used by politicians for forty years now and we've not entirely collapsed yet. So give us some evidence, please.

  • JaB on September 10, 2011 12:00 PM:

    OK Ken- the I-64 bridge between Kentucky and Indiana was closed indefinitely Friday afternoon after serious cracks were found in two beams. This leaves one interstate bridge across the Ohio in the Louisville area- we really need three.
    That's not nationwide but I'm sure specifics can be provided- probably by the ASCE report mentioned above.

  • pat meaney on September 10, 2011 12:06 PM:

    As of last night, one of two bridges that connect Louisville and southern Indiana was closed due to "cracks that were found." For about 30 years, officials have been trying to get two new bridges in the area. So, now, instead of 4 bridges (vitally necessary)we have ONE.

  • munsell10yr on September 10, 2011 12:09 PM:

  • Hedda Peraz on September 10, 2011 12:20 PM:

    It was probably a Democrat operative that found the "alleged" cracks.

    I often drive over those structures, on my way to attend a Texas execution- but then I have a St Christopher medal and a bobble head St. Ronaldus on my dashboard.

  • c u n d gulag on September 10, 2011 12:26 PM:

    Republicans have supported bridges to nowhere.

    Bridges to somewhere, are another story.

    Especially if they're in Democratic districts.

    Or, if they'll help the economy.

  • Trollop on September 10, 2011 12:26 PM:

    Maybe Obama can call the Mothman out on their ass too, for good measure. What do you mean, that's a movie? Oh yeah 9/11, 9/11, 9/11!! Overpaid media hookers will go over blow by blow all weekend.. Don't miss the 9/11 Toyota-thon and mattress sale! 9/11! In case you didn't remember the grief!! 9/11! Two wars, George W. Dingbat, 9/11!

  • Anonymous on September 10, 2011 12:36 PM:

    And now for something completely different -

    ..............ken on September 10, 2011 11:49 AM:

    ......................................................................do some research and give actual examples, specific names and places and structures..................................................

    Please note the carefully constructed context . We hope dat every body like dot .

    For evidence that gravity is merely a theory that sucks , please jump up , up , and away .

    Evidence is now flooding in that hyped up concerns about infrastructure are just more washed up Liberal bias .

    Thank you

  • bigtuna on September 10, 2011 12:44 PM:

    Here you go Ken. happy reading ...


    http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/

  • a on September 10, 2011 1:56 PM:

    Wait. I thought Republicans wanted to kill children by poisoning them with mercury. Now you tell me they plan to collapse bridges on them instead? So confusing.

  • Michael on September 10, 2011 2:24 PM:

    The GOP legislators appear to actively oppose measures that would not only benefit their own constituents but also which they have proposed and supported in the past. Why? Because those things have now been adopted by the president and congressional Democrats. In other words, the Republican members of Congress are willing to cut off their own noses to spite their faces, turning down federal dollars for their own districts. President Obama should use this fact in those districts, especially those of House members Boehner and Kantor, plus the few GOP senators who are up for reelection this time.

  • jjm on September 10, 2011 2:57 PM:

    http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/09/10/316190/while-mcconnell-opposes-infrastructure-investment-major-kentucky-bridge-shuts-down-over-safety-concerns/

    The GOP clearly believes that they are representatives ONLY of Wall Street and the wealthy. They have completely lost the idea that they represent the voters in their districts.

    How did they get so far from this that the idea of Obama taking his case to the voters causes Cantor to recoil saying that that's no fair! and so called pundits to call this an 'outside' strategy (see the article of the same name on this website.)

    OUTSIDE? THE PEOPLE??? Who ever heard of such a thing in the Washington DC of today?

  • Tyler on September 10, 2011 3:11 PM:

    Here in Houston we are really confused about President Obama saying Houston was getting transportation project money that will solve a major traffic problem. Shelia Jackson Lee and others worked feverishly to get money in past years for Metro rail lines in Houston. The money was constantly jerked away by the feds. Finally a much reduced amount was granted last year. The project is going through a minority neighborhood ( who don't really want it as it will destroy pretty esplanades and local shops) and isn't in an area that has a big traffic problem. Houston wanted help for a Galveston to Houston commuter rail or rail to Katy-Houston or Fort Bend-Houston areas. Those roads are a total nightmare commute. But we get this little leg out east Houston. So much for really helping where it is needed. Certainly will NOT solve any traffic issues.
    And what's the deal with saving children from dangerous mercury? Don't the new mandated light bulbs actually contain mercury and if they break exposure is a possibility?
    Just wondering.

  • BB on September 10, 2011 3:28 PM:

    "It was probably a Democrat operative that found the "alleged" cracks."

    I don't know, but it was Republican Indiana governor, Mitch Daniels, who shut down the bridge.

  • jim Sadler on September 10, 2011 3:39 PM:

    Infrastructure investment makes sense but not for job creation. These are slow projects. Plans, getting funding, placing bids and clearing legal hurdles can easily gobble up ten years before the first rivet is driven or shovel stuck in the soil.
    Out of work folks need a job today. Even one week may mean loss of life, limb or property.
    Maybe we could take a million or so folks for pick and shovel work and dig canals and lakes in Texas to prevent the spread of future fires. California could also use some waterways to break the path of fires as well. At the very least tents, food and health care and a few dollars a week would sustain the poor.

  • JJM on September 10, 2011 4:39 PM:

    As for the doubters: have you ever seen pictures of some of our public schools: rats in the bathrooms, plaster board falling off the walls?

    I guess wherever you live has roads smooth as silk? Bridges that aren't going to go down like the one in Minneapolis, due to an original design flaw that that bridge shares with hundreds of others across the country?

    My main question to the "doubters": what would you have the Federal Government spend money on? Nothing? They should keep our tax dollars and not return them to us, or only give it to states that pay far less than their share? Like Texas?

    What? What are YOUR priorities, if you want to get stingy? Debt free America? Why did you elect GW Bush and say absolutely nothing when he inflated the military budgets beyond all comprehension?

    Oh that's it. Military only, eh? No expense spared for spilling blood and turning us into the world's policeman? But if the rest of you want a crumb: you are saying, "Let them eat military hardware"

  • bigtuna on September 10, 2011 4:45 PM:

    Jim S ... this is not completely true. There are many projects that would be ready to go soon; democratic govs can do deals with unions to move things along, for exa. In addition, designs are done by engineers, who would get paid, buy lattes, etc. So there would be an effect even before construction: engineers, surveys, legal work, bids, ordering materials, etc.

  • MsJoanne on September 10, 2011 6:41 PM:

    People building infrastructure make money, buy things. The things they buy give jobs to others, allowing them to buy. The more things people buy, the more people work.

    Jeez, this is Econ 001 (more basic than 101). Come on doubters, this is grade school stuff

  • flyonthewall on September 10, 2011 7:24 PM:

    Iraq infrastructure must be very nice due to Halliburton and KBR makinbg billions, along with other private "free market" contractors. The 2011 OIG report regarding Iraq reconstruction shows there are more private contractors than military personnel. Some of the Blackwater personnel are ex-military. Trained and paid for by tax dollars that should have been used to build our infrastructure. They now make 10 times what they made from training tax payers financed. These dumb asshats want private "free markets", yet don't release the cost and how they are paid, with tax dollars assholes. Here's some poetic justice for a government whistleblower regarding this no bid contract. Cost the tax oayer almost 1 million just to settle the case.

    Halliburton Contract Critic Loses Her Job

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/28/AR2005082800881.html

    Army Corps Agrees to Pay Whistle-Blower In Iraq Case

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/29/world/middleeast/29reconstruct.html

  • kindness on September 10, 2011 8:15 PM:

    Kevin Drum is right of course. Going Large at zero interest would not only fix & upgrade needed stuff but would certainly help the job market. Which is exactly why Republicans will never allow it. Repubs won't say it's the jobs keeping them from pulling for it, they'll say we can't afford it and don't have the money & put on a sad face.

    We need to openly state & show that Republicans are doing everything in their poser to tank the American economy.

    I'm not so old, but it seems to me not too long ago working to kill the home economy for party gain would be considered an ugly & unbecoming thing.

  • James on September 12, 2011 2:40 AM:

    If you want proof that Bush and Cheney knew we would be hit on 9-11-01, just write to me.

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