Given that I live in Washington I suppose I should comment on the recent bridge collapse along I-5. Thankfully no one was killed, and traffic hasn't been affected at all in Seattle proper, and it looks like a new temporary bridge should be up in relatively quick order. But a slue of news organizations are talking about what why this happened, who is responsible and what needs to be done. My opinion is that this bridge collapse is evidence of a damning failure of our government.
Firstly, there is the failure of government to address the problem of a bridge that was designed without structural redundancy. We could pass this off as the engineers in 1950s thinking that such a likelihood of this type of incident being rare and not worth the effort to engineer, however, this particular bridge has a history of such incidents. So, despite documented evidence of struck by incidents by over sized trucks, no movement was taken by the government to even display the bridge height, much less take action to reinforce the bridge. But this isn't the most damning failure.
Forget the sequester, or the failures to address known problems, the damning failure goes back to 2009. Back in 2009 our government forced through a stimulus bill that was near a trillion dollars, $ 840 billion to be exact. One of the promises of the stimulus spending was that it would be spent on shovel ready projects, such as road and bridge repair. You'd think that given America's D+ grade on infrastructure that it would be a priority and given lion share of the funds. But when you actually try to track how much of the 840 billion was spent on such projects, you'll find that only around $ 70 billion was spent on infrastructure related items. That is only 8% of the entire stimulus program.
The damnation gets worse though, because of the money allocated to infrastructure spending road and bridges were given $ 27.5 billion, only 3.2% of the entire stimulus. Now, I have cautioned against the idea that spending on infrastructure yields economic dividends but if the nation is going to indebt itself, then repairing roads and bridges seems to be as good a cause as any. But we didn't spend our money on roads and bridges. So despite the very real need for upgrades, an extra $ 840 billion authorized by congress and a public the most amendable towards large scale government projects in perhaps 50 years, we did nothing.
Four years ago we issued almost a trillion dollars. The American people were desperate to see signs of their government at work. I can not think of any better way to try and build confidence in the American people than building bridges, roads and damns. Yes, it would have failed to stimulate the economy for any meaningful period of time, and yes, it did nothing to end the Great Depression when we tried it back in the 1930's. But, if we are going to go all big government and bankrupt our nation, we might as well fix some bridges while we are at it.
That is the most damnable item that is illustrated from the bridge collapse in my state. We had a known problem, our failing infrastructure. A problem that 95% of Americans agree is that the government would fully be responsible for addressing. They had the money, via debt issuance and money printing of course, that could be used to address this problem. We could have fixed every road in this country but instead our politicans opted for vote buying. The next time people blame republicans for a decline in infrastructure spending, make sure to mention that our stimulus only allocated $ 27 billion to roads and bridges yet a democratically controlled congress decided to allocated more than 10 times that amount for entitlements. $ 293 billion, that is how much we borrowed to shore up entitlements. Of that $ 293 billion, over $ 100 billion was allocated to Medicaid and Medicare alone, programs we know are going to go broke. That is the most damning failure of all. We are spending ourselves into oblivion and will have nothing to show for it.