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Northern Kentucky Enquirer Op-Ed: Bridges trump enhancements

The Kentucky Politics blog on recently argued that funding turtle tunnels and beautification projects was just as important as funding our nation's infrastructure. I could not disagree with his position more, and I suspect the people of Northern Kentucky are on my side on this one.

The article featured an interview with Jennifer Macht, of Covington, who discussed her concern for Kentucky infrastructure. In regards to the Brent Spence Bridge, Macht was quoted saying, "I won't get on it. It's terrifying. When I saw the president speaking about bridges falling down and they're all in terrible repair, he was literally standing in front of that one." We should all share her concern. These needs are pressing, and we should be building fewer bridges in Pakistan and Afghanistan and more in Kentucky.

That is why I requested to speak to President Obama directly about my ideas for transportation funding and rode with him on Air Force One to Covington to present him with my bridge fund bill plan last September. He agreed that we should fund bridges on the urgency of the repair, not on the seniority of the senator or congressman. He agreed that we needed to prioritize.

I told him that, in my view, bridge repair and replacement should not be a partisan issue. He appeared to agree and seemed open to my emergency bridge fund idea.

I am proposing that our government allows repatriation of corporate capital at 5 percent to be directed into an infrastructure fund - estimated to bring in $30 billion in new money. I am also promoting elimination of most foreign aid with diversion of this foreign welfare into infrastructure.According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, more than one-third of Kentucky's bridges are considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Nearly one in five of Kentucky's roads are in poor or mediocre condition. But we don't need statistics to tell us what recent history has proven. The time is long overdue to make infrastructure investment a priority.

But it's also vital that we fund construction efforts on America's most high-priority infrastructure needs without adding to our national debt. In this time of massive annual deficits, bridge repair certainly trumps bike paths and squirrel sanctuaries. We have to make these choices in light of our current economic recession, and we can if we work together. In my view, bridge repair and replacement should not be a partisan issue. It is time we prioritize our infrastructure needs and get Kentucky moving again.

The nation's infrastructure - in particular, bridges - continue to suffer due to a lack of funding. There are currently 600,000 bridges in the United States; 79,524 are structurally deficient and 79,792 are functionally obsolete. More than 25 percent of all bridges are in need of repair or rebuilding, so as opposed to funding sanctuaries for squirrels, why don't we invest in reconstructing our nation's infrastructure to ensure safety and efficiency for the citizens of America?

I discovered that, while there are funds to repair our bridges, there is no mechanism to replenish the fund on a routine basis. Yet, the fund for turtle tunnels and squirrel sanctuaries is mandated by law. This is Washington insanity at its most self-evident.

Kentucky receives about $420 million each year from the federal gasoline tax. It would take five years of using all of Kentucky's federal allotment of highway funds to build just the Louisville bridges project alone.

Unfortunately, 10 percent of the surface transportation funds are mandated to be spent on enhancements such as turtle tunnels, squirrel sanctuaries, movie theaters and flower beds. I am appalled at this waste but intrigued by the opportunity to allocate the funds to a more important concern such as bridge repair. This reallocation of funds would mean no new federal spending dollars.

Who could oppose such a fantastic idea that borrows no new money and raises no new taxes? Who could argue that bridge repair certainly trumps bike paths, particularly in this time of massive annual deficits? Well, it didn't take long to find out: A senator in leadership from the opposition party proudly told me that he would never take money from bike paths to repair bridges. That sums up many of the transportation problems in Washington.


Read more at Northern Kentucky Enquirer.


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