So there was a big water main break in Center City Philadelphia this weekend. Yup, another one:
A water main break disrupted the dinner hour and retailers on bustling Walnut Street, one of the toniest shopping districts in the city during the height of the holiday season.
The main shopping district in Rittenhouse Square was flooded late Saturday afternoon after a water main break sent water gushing up through several large fissures in the middle of the 1600 block of Walnut Street.
In many key parts of Philadelphia, the water mains are more than a century old, so it's not surprising that there have been so many big breaks this year. Also ancient: America's railroad bridges -- like the one that collapsed late last month in Paulsboro, N.J., causing a toxic chemical spill.
It doesn't have to be this way. Yes, spending hundreds of billions of dollars on infrastructure freaks a lot of people out, what with the so-called "fiscal cliff." Indeed, GOP leaders reportedly laughed at President Obama for suggesting a paltry $50 billion in the ongoing budget talks. The laugh should be on us. Now is a better time than later for the U.S. to try and catch up with the First World nations (of which we used to be one), not just because of the collapsing bridges and burst pipes and what not, but because interest rates are at historical lows and borrowing to create jobs pays back some of the money with income tax revenues and by not paying so much in unemployment benefits.
Don't listen to me -- listen to the New York Times:
But the biggest reason to spend money on these projects is that they are desperately needed in every city and state. Around the country, there are 70,000 structurally deficient bridges; one of them, in southern New Jersey, collapsed under a train last week, sending tank cars full of flammable gas into a creek. There are 4,000 dams in need of repair, and the electrical grid in this supposedly advanced country ranks 32nd in the world in reliability, behind Slovenia's. Those Republicans who deride this investment as worthless stimulus might want to explain to freezing homeowners why it is too expensive to bury fragile power lines.
The president's $50 billion proposal for highways, rail, mass transit and aviation, hard as it will be to achieve, is only a slim down payment on the real job. (He proposed the same package last year as part of the American Jobs Act, which Republicans ignored.) Most estimates put the cost of basic repairs at more than $2 trillion, and that does not even include long-range upgrades to the electrical grid, storm protection and mass transit.
Around the country, ridership on transit has grown significantly since the 1990s, but federal investments have fallen far short. The Transportation Department says that if $18 billion were spent every year — 40 percent more than is being spent now — transit systems might get to a state of good repair by 2028. But that does not include spending to improve service or keep up with growth, or to protect systems like New York's from storm damage. (The city's subway system needs $4.8 billion just to recover from Hurricane Sandy.)