John Colson: No infrastructure idea? Steal someone else’s! |

John Colson: No infrastructure idea? Steal someone else’s!

John Colson
Hit & Run

Let’s examine the question of our nation’s infrastructure, shall we?

OK, I understand that infrastructure is not a very exciting topic, lacking all the sexy attractiveness of, say, whether our president joined hands with Russian hackers and plotters to boost his chances of winning the White House.

But infrastructure, for all its perceived dowdiness, is important.

According to several references I consulted, online and otherwise, infrastructure is defined as the basic organizational structures and facilities (e.g. buildings, roads, sewer and water systems and power supply networks, “needed for the operation of a society or enterprise,” in the words of one such reference work.)

Note the key word, “needed,” which implies that without infrastructure, society or enterprise could not function properly, if at all.

Infrastructure is so important, in fact, that it too often has not even been mentioned in many of our bombastic political debates and battles. It’s almost as though infrastructure is one of those things that are too complicated for quick soundbites and facile pledges by candidates, but which also are accepted as things that simply exist but are out of sight and thus out of mind.

Which appears to be exactly how our government has long viewed both the infrastructure itself and the social cohesion that infrastructure supplies to a society.

The phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” seems to be the operating philosophy here, leading inexorably to the basic problem inherent in that phrase — we typically don’t know infrastructure is broken until it is too late to take preventative measures to keep it from breaking.

This catch-22 lies at the root of our current infrastructure woes here in the U.S., at least.

We’ve all gotten so used to being able to drive on passable roads, over bridges spanning mighty rivers, turn on the tap or the lights in our homes or flush a toilet anywhere without mishap that we simply take it for granted that what has worked well for a long time is not going to break down right when we need it.

Until, of course, it does break down.

I know of a townhouse complex in Carbondale, not quite a half-century old, where infrastructure has become problematic. The plumbing clogs up with unpleasant frequency, often due to the incursion of tree roots and other natural phenomena; the fences enclosing the complex are drastically in need of some TLC; the sidewalks and driving surfaces are buckling and wearing out.

All of this is a function of the passage of time and the degradation of materials, and all of it is somewhat predictable and preventable with the proper attention.

But the homeowners association of the complex at hand went years without performing needed monitoring and maintenance, until a new generation of directors took over, with the result that it all is coming to a head at the same time, and the homeowners may soon be facing drastic increases in their dues in order to fix everything at once.

Our country is in roughly the same position, particularly in older cities where the sewers, roads, subways and power grids are wearing out.

But it’s true out in the rural zones, too. Check out our local highways, or take a look at the Grand Avenue Bridge replacement project in Glenwood Springs if you doubt me.

Our public utilities are aging, and we all know that aging leads to system failure unless something is done.

It’s been talked about for generations, this problem, but very little has been done at the national level to tackle the thing head on.

Our current president made much of this issue when running for office last year, and he promised to mount a trillion-dollar campaign to fix it all, though his commitment to fixing the problem seems to have taken a back seat in his list of priorities. First, he has to get rid of some pesky scandals and investigations that seem poised to unravel his troubled administration, then he’ll get to work.

According to some estimates, fixing our nation’s infrastructure will take more than four times what the president has promised (but failed to deliver) — that’s $4 trillion-plus, about equal to the amount this country spends each year in its federal budget.

With his promised tax cuts for the very wealthy (which, though still rather vague, are estimated to cost the federal treasury as much as $7 trillion in the coming decade) and his proposal to boost military spending by $54 billion in just one year, it would appear that the feds simply don’t have the money.

So the plan is to get the “private sector” — that means huge corporations — to pony up the lion’s share of the cash.

The trouble is, there is no real plan to make that happen, kind of like the repeated promises to appoint a federal panel (so far unappointed) to oversee the infrastructure patch-up job.

To make things look better, the White House has taken to stealing the ideas of others, such as a plan to streamline the federal permitting process to speed things up whenever some kind of actual repair plan comes together, along with an online “dashboard” to track the federal projects once they get started.

The president announced that a month or so ago, to show he was making some progress on our infrastructure crisis, modest though it might be.

The trouble is, that idea actually was passed into law in 2015, after being introduced by two U.S. senators — Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio.

Didn’t stop the White House, though, from recasting the whole thing to make it look like new and to claim authorship of the plan, which did not endear the president to either McCaskill or Portman.

I’m just waiting for the man in the Oval Office to notice there’s a big bridge replacement project going on in western Colorado, in a highly visible location and to take credit for that, too — never mind that the Grand Avenue Bridge replacement was locked down well before the guy in the White House started having his dreams of presidential glory.

But, that’s just the way it goes in modern America.

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