Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Roads & Transit an imperative investment in public infrastructure

I might as well do a little blogging while I enjoy some breakfast, so here is the first of a few news items I want to point out. This is not a convention post.

The P-I has a story this morning about how the Minneapolis bridge disaster may help the Roads & Transit package this fall by reminding voters about how fragile our infrastructure is. Senator Ed Murray was quoted as saying he believes the disaster story will help "100 percent".

One hundred percent? This is a curious statement given that polling from different firms has consistently shown high support for the package for months now.

I personally find Murray's attitude a little strange. He seems to be almost cheerful about the tragedy's potential to help convince voters to support RTID and Sound Transit 2, which includes a major expansion of light rail. (Incidentally, Murray has not been a big supporter of the package. He has in the last few months questioned the feasibility of East Link, the projects in RTID, and the financing.)

Minneapolis is undoubtedly a reminder about the importance of public investment, just as Hurricane Katrina was in 2005. Highways and bridges, once built, don't last forever. The bridge collapse has resulted in a flurry of newspaper articles in major American cities discussing the vulnerability of local bridges. I've seen such articles in the Chicago and New York press, besides Seattle's.

We ran a series on the blog in 2005 - Disaster Picture of the Week - which documented visually the consequences of tax cutting and not replacing outdated infrastructure. The series showed what has happened to other cities after they were hit by earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or other disasters. That series helped contribute to the defeat of Initiative 912 in November 2005.

This tragedy did not have to happen. The danger was known:
Minnesota officials were warned as early as 1990 that the bridge that collapsed into the Mississippi River in Minneapolis was "structurally deficient," yet they relied on a strategy of patchwork fixes and stepped-up inspections.
Safety doesn't come cheaply. Quality infrastructure costs money. If we the taxpayers don't want to drive on dangerous bridges then we must pay to replace them. The right wing prefers to ignore this inconvenient truth:
Governor Pawlenty named Hero of the Taxpayer for May
16 MAY 2005 - Americans for Tax Reform News Release

In a frenetic session this year, the Minnesota Legislature is considering the largest tax increases in Minnesota’s history. The Senate just passed by party line vote a whooping [sic] $1.3 billion tax increase package. While the House budget did not include tax increases, the House in a separate bill voted to pass a gas tax increase which would boost the state’s gas tax from the current 20 cents per gallon to 30 cents by 2008.

Governor Pawlenty has stated publicly that he would use his veto power if the tax increases reach his desk. “Governor Pawlenty deserves a big pat on the back from the taxpayers of Minnesota,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “In opposing these taxes, the Governor has his constituents’ best interests in mind. He understands that grabbing more money from businesses, home owners, and motorists, would stagnate economic growth and cost jobs.”
Guess what, Grover? Not replacing that bridge cost lives. Human lives! People were injured, property was damaged, American citizens were killed. We saw this in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans under water - your vision of government drowning in a bathtub literally fulfilled.

Dangerous roadways should not be kept open for people to drive on. We have long urged Governor Gregoire and WSDOT to begin a shutdown of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and demolish the structure to prevent the possibility of a waterfront calamity. It's good that we have revenue in place to start funding a replacement. But the viaduct has to go. We have an opportunity with RTID to approve more funding for the SR 520 floating bridge replacement this fall. That's another vulnerable structure that needs to go.

These are not easy investments to make. It is true that dollars are often scarce at the state level. While that's no excuse, it is ridiculous that we are wasting billions in Iraq - a quagmire that the right wing continues to unapologetically support, at the same time that bridges are collapsing back here at home because needs have been unmet. Needs that the right wing does not want to take care of.

They oppose collecting the required revenue.

When you get your ballot this November, you have a choice. You can support a long range plan that will improve our transportation system and bring us rapid transit, or you can support doing nothing. Think about the impact your no vote could have in the future, and you can see the choice is an easy one. Vote yes.

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