Saturday, December 6, 2008


Today President-elect Barack Obama announced his commitment to engage a public works construction program not so subtly reminiscent of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA), both originally established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his New Deal in the 1930’s.

The WPA and the CCC employed millions of people and positively affected most every segment of the population of the United States. Obama’s intent is to resuscitate our ailing economy and put as many as two million folks back to work - actually a small amount compared to FDR’s WPA.

The ultimate success of Roosevelt’s New Deal CCC and WPA which, by the way, still survives in myriad forms in many state and federal programs, would appear to be part of the answer to our very complicated economic plight.

The first thing everybody needs to acknowledge is that the infrastructure of our country, whether we highlight bridges, highways or other critical structures, is in abysmal shape. I am reminded immediately of Atlanta that only resurrected its infrastructure to its current state because of the preparation effort prompted by their highly successful 1996 Summer Olympics (same song, different verse).

The catastrophic collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota on August 1, 2007 which killed thirteen and injured many more is a tragic reminder of the sorry state of our bridges. I saw a Department of Transportation report several years ago which declared that of the 591,707 bridges then in the US inventory, 162,869 were classified as deficient (27.5 percent), either for structural or functional causes. Federal officials cited this as an improved figure though that would appear to be the tip of the iceberg. A more recent report confidently reflects that the situation has improved and that only 12% of our bridges remain deficient? Again, I question whether in three years our bridges have been brought to that secure level. Since bridges are only inspected every two years we could have a strategic lag time here.

When you factor in that there are over 60,000 bridges over water with unknown foundations which require an aggressive risk analysis and probably mitigation, the problem would appear much greater than admitted by our government. This figure will also validate that our bridges require constant maintenance to stay ahead of the safety curve.

While I question government statistics and certainly their assertion of overall improvements, their admission would appear to still leave many Americans exposed to a repeat of the Minneapolis collapse. Yes, Minneapolis could happen again and hangs like the threat of another Al Qaeda attack. It’s that real. Let’s get our bridges and roads fixed and solve another problem…

While some economists and politicians argue that this strategy is only “illusory” prompting a “Peter to pay Paul” scenario and only a shift in spending (and borrowing), Mr. Obama and others appear ready to argue that President Eisenhower’s ultra successful federal Interstate program is a more recent example how folks can be put back to work for the ultimate good of our country.

This sure appears to be a win-win situation. Why the nay sayers (hence this comment) keep coming out of the woodwork and politicizing such constructive programs is beyond me. A loyal and aggressive minority which can offer constructive criticism and viable options is a noble and critical component of our society. Where are they?

Perhaps like the WPA of old they are scared folks will find out that they are just moving piles of leaves from one part of the park to another.


Ned Buxton

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