President Trump used his State of the Union speech to challenge Democrats to cooperate in a bipartisan strategy to rebuild America’s aging infrastructure, which needs all the help it can get.
Some of the president’s critics insist the tax dollars Trump wants to spend to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico — estimated to be from $18 billion to $30 billion, depending on how pretty you want such a wall to be — would go a long way and be far better spent on repairing America’s bridges and highways.
The thing about folks in Washington, especially the ones elected to go there and represent their back-home citizens’ wants and needs, is that there seems to be a disconnect between wanting something done, and combining that with a reasonable cost estimate.
For example, even if Trump’s border wall could be constructed for the low end of the estimates, $18 billion, that would be literally a drop in the bucket compared to what experts believe is needed to fix what’s wrong with U.S. roads and bridges.
The estimated repair costs for the tens of thousands of old and potentially dangerous bridges is at least $140 billion — assuming the work started today. Highway engineers say the cost figure will spike upward with every day of delays.
The bridge repair issue is significant. Nationwide, nearly three-quarters of all car traffic and nine-tenths of all truck traffic travel over state-owned bridges — and nearly a third of those bridges are badly in need of repair. Twenty percent of U.S. bridges are a half-century or more old.
That’s $140 billion for bridges alone. If we also want to put the roads in decent shape, that will add another $1 trillion or so to the tab.
There are more than 4.2 million miles of roads in America, and a high percentage of those highways are in miserable shape, costing drivers billions in auto repairs. Bad roads contribute to congestion, which costs motorists nearly 7 billion hours stuck in traffic each year, wasting more than $3 billion worth of fuel burned going almost nowhere.
We aren’t even factoring in the costs associated with updating U.S. airports, rail lines, disparate power grids and ancient water-delivery systems.
All of which circles us back to the president’s campaign promise about building a border wall, and making Mexico pay for it, which mostly induced laughter among Mexico’s top government officials. Why is such a wall anywhere close to a priority, given the state of decay in America’s fundamental infrastructure?
What Trump wants to spend on the border wall scheme could be a decent down payment on resolving the issue of homelessness in America. And as one blogger suggests, for just a fraction of the costs of the wall the Trump administration could buy all of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, thus ending the threat to the United States.
That’s a bit fanciful, considering the rocky relationship between Trump and North Korea’s young hot-headed leader. But the point is there are dozens of better ways to spend U.S. tax dollars than wasting them on a president’s legacy efforts — at a time when illegal immigration into this country is lower than it’s been in decades, and more than 25 percent of those who do try to enter the U.S. illegally are stopped at legal ports of entry, not in the open desert.
President Trump said Tuesday night he wants wants to fix America. Repairing roads and bridges would be a good place to start such a renovation.