As I watched the extensive TV coverage of the disastrous crash of an interstate highway bridge over the Mississippi in Minneapolis/St. Paul while recuperating from a total hip joint replacement, I was reminded of the car crash that first injured my hip as a teenager. My Father's '63 Chevy flipped over because of an unrepaired six inch drop off from the paved road surface to the shoulder, a narrow bridge ahead and my own driving inexperience. While adjusting the car radio I had allowed the right front wheel to slip off the sharply elevated road and with a narrow bridge approaching I pulled the steering wheel quickly back to the left causing the Chevy to flip over. Unsafe highways, bridges and driving are a genuine terror threat to us all.
About thirty yards through the woods from the backyard deck of our home of 35 years is Piney Grove Road and about 300 yards down Piney Grove is a bridge over Kinley Creek. My wife and I travel over the bridge daily to get to our pharmacy, bank and to shop for groceries. At night we hear giant tractor-trailer trucks rumble down Piney Grove and across the bridge. As the catastrophic Minnesota bridge collapse captured national headlines, a picture of our small bridge and a front page story in The State newspaper -"Safer S. C. bridges? $3 billion, 20 years" focused our attention on the transportation terror in our own backyard. According to the South Carolina Department of Transportation the Kinley Creek Bridge is rated third among 105 bridges most in need of replacement in S.C.
For thirty-five years my law firm has represented people who suffer severe injuries in transportation accidents and it has become increasingly obvious that we are being terrorized daily by a very real threat of severe injury and death from such accidents. Beyond the need for a much greater emphasis on driver safety and training, we must adequately fund the maintenance, repairs, and rebuilding of our transportation infrastructure to develop safer, eco-friendly transportation for our highly mobile citizenry. Statistically there are many more human casualties in transportation accidents each year than in war. President Dwight Eisenhower, who built the now aging interstate highway system, warned us about the military industrial complex. Ike believed in peace and prosperity.
With the ideology of unquestioned and unlimited spending for national defense and tax-cuts-are-the-will-of-God, there is very limited political momentum for our very real transportation needs. As Jim Klobuchar, an award-winning columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune put it, "Don't raise the gasoline tax. Don't raise ANY tax. And for God's sake don't raise the income tax on people who, after a six year feast of tax cuts, can afford to pay more."
Ike would applaud Mr. Klobuchar's criticism that "the federal government needs the money to run the world and start wars and build bases on every continent, meaning it doesn't have enough to keep things like old bridges healthy."
A 2005 report card on America's infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country a D and warned of dire consequences unless a crash program is undertaken to fix it.
There has been a sharp reduction in the federal government's role in maintaining the nation's infrastructure. "In the 1960s, the federal government and the states paid roughly equal amounts to fund infrastructure projects, but state and local governments bear most of the costs these days," according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. With no national plan for maintenance of the system, decisions on repair and construction are left to the states and localities, and oversight is divided between all three levels of government
Since the 1970s, deregulation dismantled social reform and previously enacted restrictions on corporate activities. The result has been a concentration of wealth in the hands of a few akin to the days of the Robber Barons. According to a recent study, in 2005 the top one-tenth of one percent of the US population (some 300,000 people) had nearly as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans. President George W. Bush is the personification of a political system determined to destroy all barriers to the accumulation of the personal wealth by the very rich. Taxes are virtually nonexistent on the principle sources of income of the super-rich, like capital gains and other tax dodges.
The money needed to upgrade our transportation infrastructure could be available. Last years Christmas bonuses to corporate executives exceeded $100 billion. That is more than twice the annual federal allocation of $40 billion for the country's roads and bridges. And, what about the $450 billion already spent on the unnecessary war in Iraq and its ongoing weekly outlay of $1.8 billion, not to mention the $533 billion Pentagon budget or the $555 billion in tax cuts for the rich.
Why can't the Halliburtons come home and repair our bridges, roads, and physical infrastructure and win the war against the transportation terror in our own back yard?
Tom Turnipseed is an attorney, writer and peace activist in Columbia, South Carolina. www.turnipseed.net