‘Structurally deficient’

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.