Tuesday, January 29, 2008

That's the way the arterials crumble

One of my favorite columnists is Bob Herbert of the New York Times. Herbert, like his colleague Nicholas Kristof, often highlights vital issues that affect millions yet for some reason tend to ignored by the mainstream press. Yes, that's right, there really are crises out there more impactful than Britney Spears' hair, issues we can do something about - issues like Katrina recovery, the horrors of legal prostitution, and continuing international slavery. Herbert was writing about the subprime crisis before it was cool. Today, he draws attention to our nation's crumbling infrastructure.

There is usually not much about infrastructure stories to turn readers or viewers on. But the catastrophe in New Orleans and the bridge collapse in Minneapolis are tragic evidence of the peril that goes hand in hand with neglect of the nation’s roads, bridges, levees, transit systems, water treatment facilities and so on.

Just two weeks before the Minneapolis bridge collapse, an underground steam pipe in Midtown Manhattan exploded, sending a geyser of filth and asbestos-laden debris into the air. A woman fleeing the scene died of a heart attack, and the area suffered millions of dollars in economic damage.

In South Carolina, where candidates of both parties competed in recent presidential primaries, there is a long stretch of grievously neglected rural schools that has been dubbed “the corridor of shame.” Some of the schools are more than a century old. Among the many problems are ancient plumbing, inadequate heating and sewage that backs up into classrooms, bringing in vermin and terrible odors.

The country could do itself a favor by paying more attention to the efforts of Senator Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat who is chairman of the Banking Committee, and Senator Hagel, a Nebraska Republican. They have co-sponsored legislation that would create a national infrastructure bank to promote and help finance large-scale projects across the nation.

Part of their mission is to generate a sense of urgency. In an interview yesterday, Senator Dodd told me: “At a time when we’re worried about rising unemployment rates and declining confidence in this country, infrastructure projects have the dual effect of putting people to work — and usually at pretty good salaries and wages — while also creating a sense of optimism, of investing in the future.”

Please, read the whole thing. I consider our crumbling infrastructure a vital issue, right alongside health-care and just behind nuclear proliferation, climate change, Iraq, and human rights on the importance list.

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