Sometimes we are so busy and held captive by current events, we forget the past. But I was reminded of an event in the not-too-distant past when I visited CONEXPO-CON/AGG, the construction trade show in Las Vegas in March.
Someone asked Duane Wilder, president of Liebherr Construction Equipment, Newport News, Va., if his company benefited from the $787 billion Stimulus Bill Congress passed in 2009. “We appreciated it, but it didn’t have the impact in the industry that we hoped it would,” Wilder said. “What we need is a long-term highway bill.” He correctly speculated that the U.S. needs a fuel tax to pay for the necessary repairs. “But that’s not going to happen,” he added, again correctly.
Many people thought the stimulus money was just what our nation needed to make the necessary repairs to our roads, bridges, wastewater treatment plants, and more. Two and a half years later, almost all of the money is gone and our infrastructure saw little benefit.
The timing in early 2009 should have been ideal. After all, it had been only 18 months since our nation received a wake-up call. During a routine evening rush hour on Aug. 1, 2007, the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed. Thirteen people were killed and 145 were injured.
One of them was Sadiya Sahal, a 23-year-old Somali refugee, who was driving with her toddler, Hana. Sahal, a nursing student, was five months pregnant, according to The New York Times. Christina Sacorafas, 45, was headed to church where she was going to teach a dance class. The stories go on and on.
Sounds of silence
For several days, politicians postured before the television cameras and called for repairs to our aging bridges, roads, dams, and more. Since then there has been silence. In our Winter 2007 issue, I already wrote that just five months after the collapse, our attention had turned away from the issue. Little has changed.
The nation needs a long-term serious plan to make these repairs. This does not mean throwing money to pave a quiet street with asphalt, which was done in my neighborhood last summer.
Our industry has the solutions to many of these problems. Much of our current issue deals with infrastructure repair. Our Showcase story on page 38 is an example. Unfortunately, the repairs to the Grove Isle Bridge near Miami did not involve Stimulus money. But hope is not lost. The same contractor who worked on Grove Isle Bridge currently is repairing another bridge in the area—a project funded as a result of the Stimulus package.
The nation soon will gear up for another presidential election. All facets of the construction industry—concrete-related associations, contractors, and concrete producers—should press the candidates on this important issue. The battle will be uphill. Because the U.S. is mired in debt, convincing lawmakers to spend more money on infrastructure, with budget cuts likely on the horizon, will be difficult.
Still, this is a fight worth fighting. Otherwise, Sadiya and Hana Sahal, Christina Sacorafas, and 10 others will have died in vain.