The lesson of the Sherman Minton Bridge

We talked yesterday about the desperate need for public investments in infrastructure, and evidence from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics that suggest Republican leaders — for the sake of their own constituents — should drop their opposition to these investments.

As several commenters noted, the timing of this story in Mitch McConnell’s home state helps drive the point home.

The Sherman Minton Bridge was closed late Friday afternoon and will remain shut down indefinitely after officials discovered cracks in the span.

Will Wingfield, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation, said officials “do not have an estimate” on how long it will take to repair and reopen the bridge, which carries Interstate 64 traffic across the Ohio River.

Wingfield said the cracks were found in two steel support beams below the lower deck closer to the Kentucky side.

For safety reasons, Indiana officials felt it necessary to shut down the bridge immediately and indefinitely. I’m not especially familiar with this area, but this apparently caused some rush-hour chaos on Friday night, as locals in Kentucky and Indiana scrambled to find alternate routes.

Kerry Stemler, co-chairman of the Ohio River Bridges Authority, called this a “wake-up call,” adding, “This shows how important these bridges are to the community and the region.”

Complicating matters, it appears thatmuch of the traffic that will be diverted to another nearby bridge. As a local official noted, that other bridge “already handles more traffic than what it was designed for.”

For every Republican in Congress who’s already arguing we can’t afford to invest in infrastructure, I think the evidence is pretty clear we can’t afford not to.

And just to expand a little more on a point we touched on briefly yesterday, it’s important to remember that now is the perfect time to make these investments — not only because the economy would benefit and because our infrastructure demands are so great, but also because it’d be cheaper to spend the money now rather than later.

Because borrowing rates are so remarkably low right now, we have a unique opportunity that we won’t see again for a very long time. Indeed, policymakers should be pinching themselves with the good fortune — they know the nation has important investments to make; they know they’d prefer to keep borrowing costs to a minimum; and they know they’re effectively being offered free money. Washington can use that free money to create jobs and improve crumbling infrastructure, with the satisfaction of knowing it’s never been more cost effective to do so.

I’ll leave it to Republicans to once again explain why they don’t care.