The chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board said the bridge collapse in Seattle, Wash., last month should serve as a wake-up call for this nation. We fear, however, public officials will continue to ignore the problem.
Federal investigators say thousands of bridges around the United States may be one freak accident or mistake away from collapse. Crumbling bridges and highways are just part of the problem. A report from the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations last year said Tennessee needs to spend $37.3 billion to address the state’s basic infrastructure needs.
Officials say the cost of infrastructure improvements total $18.9 billion for transportation and utilities, $7.7 billion for education, $1 billion for economic development, $7.1 billion for health and safety needs and $1.8 for recreation services. As a total, these figures represent $9 billion more in infrastructure needs than that forecast by TACIR just a few years ago.
As we’ve noted in this space before, crumbling infrastructure is a serious problem. Aging roads, bridges and schools present a public safety hazard. Inadequate water supplies pose real obstacles to the health and economic well-being of many communities.
Elected officials must do a better job of deciding which projects should go to the top of the list and how they will be paid for. And politicians have to do a better job of making the case for these infrastructure improvements to taxpayers who feel they are already being asked to do too much.
More governing bodies should undertake the kind of exercise that members of the Johnson City Commission practiced at a workshop earlier this week. As Press staff writer Gary B. Gray reported Wednesday, Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin asked each of his colleagues to list their budget priorities on a sheet of paper.
It’s time for all public officials to begin serious planning and prioritizing for the future. Failure to do so will leave the next generation of Americans without the schools, roads and public utilities it will need to compete in the global economy.