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New York Post

 

Where Bam Needs To Think Bigger

September 21, 2011

By Nicole Gelinas

Last week, President Obama told lawmakers that they should pass his “American Jobs Act” because “there’s a bridge that needs repair between Ohio and Kentucky that’s on one of the busiest trucking routes in North America.” Hours later, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels closed down another busy bridge, just 100 miles up the same river, after inspectors found a crack. Yet the coincidence actually illustrates what’s wrong with the president’s approach.

The abrupt closure caused “the biggest traffic hurdle ever in local history,” says the Louisville Courier-Journal. Some 80,000 people a day crossed between Indiana and Kentucky over the Ohio River via the Sherman Minton Bridge. Now nearby bridges are clogged, and a dinner-cruise ship is doing double duty as a ferry.

Of course congestion is better than casualties. Daniels closed the bridge because it could fall down. Like the I-35 bridge that fell in Minneapolis five summers ago, killing 13, the Sherman Minton was built “fracture critical.” It lacks “belts and suspenders” support, so one crack could send the thing down.

Happily, workers fixing smaller problems found the crack in time. But the bridge could be closed for years. Repairs (or replacement) could cost hundreds of millions.

Good thing the president wants to put “millions of unemployed construction workers” to work fixing highways, right? After all, one in four bridges is obsolete or “structurally deficient,” says the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Here in New York, the Tappan Zee, which carries 130,000 people a day from Rockland County to New York City, is a few years older than the Sherman Minton, and also “fracture critical.”

The problem is, Obama’s not actually doing much for these bridges.

Of his first $787 billion stimulus, only $28 billion -- 3.6 percent -- went to highways (including bridges). His new “jobs act” would send just $50 billion of $447 billion -- 11 percent -- to “surface transportation.”

Sorry: The nation’s state-highway officials figure it would cost $147 billion to fix our breaking bridges -- never mind building the “world class” transportation the president wants.

Meanwhile, Obama wants to spend $35 billion helping local governments “rehire” laid-off teachers and first responders and $30 billion “modernizing schools.” That, plus $15 billion to “repurpose vacant property.”

Sorry: Scattering the political goodies around ensures there’s not enough to really change any one thing. If Obama thinks we’ve got a bridge crisis, he should propose doing enough to make a difference.

And he shouldn’t call it a “jobs” bill. It’s good that fixing a bridge puts people to work, but that is not the point of it. The point of fixing bridges is to fix bridges, so people don’t die and can get to work.

One cheap way to help: The president could declare a five-year holiday on federal environmental and labor regulations for bridge repairs. States wouldn’t have to adhere to federal “prevailing wage” laws, which push labor costs up. Nor would they have to spend months or even years preparing full “environmental impact statements” for projects that are replacements, not brand-new construction in the wilderness.

That way, states couldn’t blame Washington when they are paying consultants tens of millions of dollars over a decade to come up with excuses not to build, as New York has with the Tappan Zee.

A regulatory holiday would save money, too. In Indiana, when the state builds hiking trails with its own money, it costs $250,000 a mile. Using federal funds costs $1 million a mile because of red tape. On road projects, the difference is less dramatic, yet Indiana can still save a third by going it alone. “Chucking out the [federal] rule book,” Daniels said, would make a big difference.

If Obama isn’t going to fix bridges, he should stop saying he will, so that governors understand they can’t look to Washington.

Indiana, in that respect, is better off than many states. It’s got money for emergencies, even a big one. Other states, including New York, are waiting around for Washington to fix their highways.

The way things are going, Tappan Zee drivers may find themselves taking a dinner cruise to work one morning.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/where_bam_needs_to_think_bigger_ve9AvGwyFdtPZDSxwQ9oTM?CMP=OTC-rss&FEEDNAME

 

 
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