Young: To the future? Who needs roads?
January 14, 2015
It's 2015, you know, and a tea party fantasy looks to be realized.
No, we're not talking about Republican control of both houses of Congress. We're talking about the fantasy that begat a sequel to "Back to the Future."
If you recall, the last lines in this first movie came from old Doc Brown, in his flying DeLorean, when he said, "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads."
Well, it's 2015, the year in which "Back to the Future II" is set, and just ask the Republican Party: We don't need roads. With flying cars and hover boards, roads are obsolete.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren hit on that fantasy when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the Keystone XL Pipeline the "first bipartisan infrastructure bill of the new Congress." And how dare President Obama threaten to veto it?
Warren mocked the primacy and pretext attached to Keystone. That pretext is a few thousand part-time jobs.
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"What if we focused on highways instead?" Warren asked. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials estimates that long-last passage of a permanent highway bill would create 8 million jobs.
The infrastructure that affects us all — delivers our families and our goods, our ambulances, our school buses — truly is languishing. Former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, one of two Republicans on Obama's first Cabinet, has described that infrastructure as "on life support."
We heard a lot about the Alaskan "bridge to nowhere" in an election past, and umbrage swelled. The real problem facing everyone, however, is bridges to somewhere, and the thoroughfares connecting them.
The Transportation Department rates 70,000 bridges as structurally deficient. Maybe that's a high number devised by paper-pushers currying tax dollars. OK. If it were one-seventh of that — if it were 10,000 deficient bridges — would that not trouble you?
Here's something a do-nothing Congress would rather not hear discussed: The federal Highway Trust Fund — which gets its money from the federal gas tax — is almost insolvent.
And it's no mystery why spending per capita on infrastructure is at its lowest point since 1947, according to LaHood. As a percentage of income, federal revenue is at its lowest point since just about the same time — 1950, to be exact, back before Chuck Berry, man.
Yes, as Tax Day approaches, you'll be told that an insatiable federal government takes more and more. In truth, that's as far from reality as traffic lights in the sky.
And don't let anyone convince you that this nation is resources-poor. To this point, according to costofwar.org, we've spent $1.57 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan, and without a murmur from today's Republican deficit hawks.
Say what you will about the Obama stimulus legislation, but acknowledge that it was for building and sustaining things this country needs, rather than rebuilding what we destroyed in war.
Last week Obama issued the audacious proposal of providing a community college education free for all Americans who maintain adequate academic standards. Projected price tag? Sixty billion dollars over 10 years. Out of the question, yes? Well, guess what? We spent more than that — $96 billion — last year alone in drawing down our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And so — of course we can't afford roads. And why do we need them anyway? Most people of means have monster SUVs and big-butted trucks that are sold on their capacity to go where the heck they want — off-roading, creek-bedding, mountain-scaling.
That being the case, a 21st century infrastructure trend is what we shall call pop-ramps. As the rest of us are stuck in a traffic jam at the nearest interstate, those who can do it simply yank a right, over the curb, and high-tail through the weeds to the nearest service road.
So you see, Sen. Warren is out of touch about priorities. She just needs a bigger vehicle.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: email@example.com.
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