Opinion: Freeway flood shows aging infrastructure is a real problem and that new law was necessary – The San Diego Union-Tribune

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Flooding in East Village and on Interstate 5 in Downtown San Diego last week after two water mains broke last Sunday created both huge headaches for drivers and indelible images of water coursing down the freeway. It took until Wednesday for I-5 conditions to become close to normal. But the mess carried a needed message: The problems with America’s aging infrastructure are real and not a product of President Joe Biden’s imagination.

Biden’s signing of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill on Nov. 15 is rightly seen as a highlight of his 10 months in office. The measure won genuine bipartisan support in the Senate, passing on a rare 69-30 vote with the enthusiastic backing of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Its passage in the House on a 228-206 vote was much more party-line. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Bonsall, voted no.

Why did GOP lawmakers reject the measure? Some certainly hold the principled view that it’s irresponsible to keep borrowing money and adding to the national credit card. But most were likely responding to threats from former President Donald Trump that he would seek to block the re-election of Republicans who gave Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer such a victory. Given that Trump himself wanted a big infrastructure measure while president, this is partisan politics at its worst.

This is especially so given that no one disputes that the federal government has neglected infrastructure for decades. The 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35 West bridge during rush hour in Minneapolis — which killed 13 people and injured 145 more — should have led to an appreciation of the danger posed by hundreds of aging, design-flawed bridges and other worn-down infrastructure across the U.S.

Instead, relatively little was done to address this issue — until this year. The measure Biden signed includes $73 billion to upgrade the electricity grid, making it more practical to carry renewable energy; $66 billion for rail improvements and projects; $65 billion for broadband so remote areas have high-speed internet access; $21 billion for cleanup of polluted waterways, abandoned mines and other sites; $15 billion to modernize water systems and make water safer to drink and use; and $2 billion for improving transportation projects in rural areas.

The measure also features the federal government’s most specific, targeted response to the climate emergency yet. It includes $47 billion for “climate resiliency” programs to combat wildfires and help coastal regions deal with the more frequent flooding and hurricanes expected in coming years. And it provides $7.5 billion to take a first step toward Biden’s goal of building 500,000 electric-vehicle charging stations across the nation.

Yes, of course, it would be better if all this new spending was paid for on an as-you-go basis. But the case for the measure is buttressed by economists across the spectrum who say U.S. infrastructure woes are a major drag on the $20 trillion national economy. Studies show that delays caused by traffic congestion and the poor condition of the nation’s airports take an annual economic toll of at least $135 billion — and that number is from before this year’s disastrous supply-chain problems preventing many goods from reaching consumers and various industries. It’s no wonder freight-transportation experts cheered the bill’s passage.

Alas, so long as Trump remains so popular with rank-and-file Republicans that most GOP lawmakers won’t cross him, progress on other big national concerns may be elusive. But at least the passage of the infrastructure plan — and its support from more than a third of Senate Republicans — shows progress is possible on complex issues.