Labor Voices: Bipartisanship can fix infrastructure
The U.S. economy may be looking up, but that doesn’t mean all is well with the nation’s health. For far too long, elected officials have ignored the infrastructure needs of this country. As a result, roads, mass transit systems and other essential parts of the transportation network have fallen into disrepair.
A snapshot of the problem was highlighted in a report released by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association late last month. It found that 10.5 percent of Michigan’s 11,180 bridges were ranked structurally deficient, and that 63 of those bridges were part of the interstate highway system.
Not surprisingly, many of the bridges in question are in the Detroit metropolitan area. The top four in the state carrying the most vehicles per day are all in Wayne County, led by the Second Boulevard bridge spanning Interstate 94, which carries 146,000 vehicles a day. All of the top four handle more than 100,000 crossings daily.
In total, the state has identified some 1,736 bridges in need of repair, which it estimates will cost $9.2 billion. Michigan was one of 21 states with more than 9 percent of its bridges ranking structurally deficient — the report’s worst category. It ranks 16th in bridge disrepair nationally.
Those numbers aren’t pretty, especially when you consider bridges are just a small part of the problem. A broader infrastructure report card released last year found the poor condition of Michigan’s roads is costing each state driver $540 a year. This is a problem that affects almost everyone.
The Teamsters are glad to see the president as well as members of Congress recognize the importance of addressing infrastructure improvements. But the time for talk is over. These statistics prove that Michigan and the entire country are facing a crisis that jeopardizes the lives of motorists from coast to coast. A substantial public investment of dollars is necessary.
Back in 2015, this union introduced its “Let’s Get America Working” platform that prioritized infrastructure spending as a way to get the nation back on track. The premise was that dollars spent to repair and rebuild America were a win-win, one that would help not only workers with good-paying union jobs but businesses as well. Almost three years later, that is still the case.
Infrastructure jobs, unlike those in other sectors, can’t be outsourced. They improve the lives of all Americans, including the men and women who help to repair and maintain the country’s transportation networks, along with those who earn a living hauling goods and the vast majority of Americans who ride the roads and rails every day.
U.S. roads, bridges, ports, airports, railroads and mass transit systems are crumbling. They endanger the well-being of people in this country, including hundreds of thousands of Teamsters, be it as truckers, railroad workers, bus drivers, building tradesmen and others. This nation’s failure to maintain and improve this infrastructure is costing Americans more and more.
There was a time when building infrastructure wasn’t seen as a partisan issue. Instead, it was a symbol of what makes this nation great and something all elected officials could support. But government is broken. Partisan bickering has replaced finding solutions.
Infrastructure presents an opportunity to break the political gridlock. Lawmakers shouldn’t miss this golden opportunity to improve the lives of their constituents now.
James Hoffa is president of the Teamsters.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.