It’s that time again. Time for Washington, D.C., to work itself into a tizzy about the nation’s so-called crumbling infrastructure, following the collapse of a Washington bridge over the Skagit River on Thursday.
Yes, the nonfatal accident caused when a truck hit the side of the bridge could rev up momentum for legislation aimed at funding repairs. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., proposed a bill earlier this month that would use repatriated overseas capital to pay for emergency transportation projects, such as critically deficient roads and bridges. President Obama during his State of the Union address proposed a “Fix-it-First” approach aimed at using $40 billion to repair crucial U.S. infrastructure from highways to bridges.
Besides, it's looking increasingly possible that the cause of the accident wasn't the condition of the bridge, but that the bridge wasn't designed to carry such heavy traffic. Paula Hammond, the former head of the Washington State Department of Transportation, said the accident "will probably be a "wake-up call for DOTs everywhere to look at the types of over-sized loads they're permitting and whether or not they have these kinds of bridges," according to Governing, a publication focused on state and local governments.
But anyone thinking that the Washington bridge collapse will spur Congress and the Obama administration to significantly boost infrastructure spending is naïve. Even the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis over the Mississippi River, which killed 13, didn’t change much on the Hill.
"Congress basically lacks the courage to do what is needed to raise the funds," Andrew Hermann, the president of the American Society of Engineers, told ABC News in August. “Bridges require maintenance, and maintenance and rehabilitation require funding... Politicians like to show up and cut a ribbon on a brand new bridge, but they don't like to show up and applaud a new paint job that may increase the life of a bridge."
Kudos to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., for highlighting the hypocrisy during the Senate hearing on Anthony Foxx’s nomination to head the Department of Transportation. The senior senator told the Charlotte mayor that he can’t be a good secretary unless the nation finds a way to boost infrastructure spending. Unfortunately, the two most feasible vehicles to raise funding — hiking the fuel tax and charging drivers for how far they drive — have gone nowhere.
“What is needed in this country for you to be a successful Secretary of Transportation and for us to be a successful country is a willingness to bite a bullet, which some in this Congress in both houses refuse to bend to. Thus causing others who would bend to it not to bend to it. Because of the fear of what would happen in the next primary. And it has developed into a fairly fine art. And it is the fastest way to destroy the future of our country that I can possibly think of,” Rockefeller told Foxx, according to a transcript provided by Transportation Issues Daily.
So bring on the calls for more infrastructure spending and the familiar cries warning the nation is losing its global competitive edge. Lawmakers will use the Washington bridge accident as an anecdote in their speeches advocating more infrastructure funding — only to shrink away later when hard decisions need to be made.