Martin:Repairing The Infrastructure

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(HOST) Commentator Mike Martin has been noticing the sorry state of some of our roads – and thinking about how rebuilding infrastructure will be a good investment for our country – and our future.

(MARTIN) On a recent drive down Route 7, I was suddenly aware of feeling calm and tranquil euphoric even – but I couldn’t think why. Was it the sun shining on Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks? The song on the radio? My new haircut? And then it hit me. It was the long, twinkling crack in my windshield.

Now I realize that for most people, driving around with a cracked windshield doesn’t inspire happiness, but most people haven’t lost three windshields in the past year and a half. And when a stone kicks up and thwacks your windshield, your teeth hurt, your stomach roils, and your faith in the public roadways is shaken. So much so, that I actually found it relaxing to drive through Vermont with an already-broken windshield.

Of course when you hear about our country’s crumbling roads, bridges, and levees, you realize that it’s not just Vermont. But we definitely have our share of sharp-edged potholes, humpbacked frost heaves, and loose, washed-out patches of road. Sometimes I try to convince my wife – in a voice that breaks as the car jolts over another bad spot – that our rough roads are due to our rugged climate, but she doesn’t buy it. She points out that the French Alps have plenty of frost and snow runoff, but the roads there are just fine. And sometimes, just to hurt my feelings, she says that roads in Tito’s Yugoslavia in the 1980’s were better than what we have now.

Naturally, that sort of talk ruffles my American eagle feathers because everybody knows that great countries have great roads. For example, the Romans built roads so well that many are still in use today. So, at the risk of sounding too patriotic, I hope my country’s roads last a thousand years longer than those of the early Italians.

But there’s no guarantee that this will happen. Many recent reports show our country’s transportation infrastructure is horrible. According to the Economist magazine, the U.S. invests only 2.4% of GDP in infrastructure, compared with 5% in Europe and 9% in China. And since we know how much economic growth depends on having excellent infrastructure, it appears that other countries are preparing a brighter future for their children than we are for ours.

Jefferson laid out plans to build American roads and canals in 1808, Lincoln approved the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1862, and Dwight Eisenhower created our national inter-state system in 1956. Now President Obama, with his $816 billion stimulus package, has launched a massive investment in our nation’s infrastructure, mainly in transportation, housing, education, energy, and water.

And that’s a lot of money, even more than what we just spent to re-capitalize our big banks after they made some poor decisions. But unlike the financial bailout, roads, schools, and clean energy are the kind of investment that we taxpayers will actually be able to feel and see – even through a cracked windshield.

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