A letter to Minnesota Sen Amy Klobuchar

Dear Sen. Klobuchar:  It’s not as sexy as a new baseball stadium or as macho as a new war in the Middle East. It’s no the kind of thing that has a constituency. No lobbyists. Only a few nerdy civil engineers writing report cards from dusty hidden offices. No one gets on a bus to Washington, DC, to demand that the government DO something to ensure that our nation’s bridges, water systems, steam service lines and power grid are up to modern standards. Not until yesterday.

I watched Gov. Pawlenty being interviewed by ABC’s Nightline this evening, being asked questions he would rather not answer. He has been so proud of his commitment to “no new taxes.” Well, now we have right in the Governor’s back yard a tragic example of the consequence no new taxes year after year after year.

Maybe this is not a Republican or Democrat issue. Undoubtedly it’s not the shortsightedness of just one leader — our current governor. In a democratic society the people ultimately need only look in the mirror if they want to know who is at fault. But now here it is. A bridge rated at 50 percent reposing in the Mississippi River. And as Gov. Pawlenty excuses … more than a thousand across the country with the same rating. And this legislative session he gleefully vetoed a 5 cent increase in the gasoline tax.

My father, a civil engineer who built roads and bridges in Pennsylvania, forty years ago wondered about the wisdom of creating a system of thousands of miles of “free” superhighways across the country. As a kid, the only time we drove cross country was on a Turnpike and we paid for the privilege. The Pennsylvania Turnpike — like many other toll roads primarily in the eastern third of the nation — is, to this day, very well maintained. My father always wondered where would the money come from to maintain all of these FREE ways. Who would make sure all of those thousands of bridges constructed as a part of Pres. Eisenhower’s ambitious program would be systematically repaired and replaced as they aged over time.

So here we are today. And we have our answer. My father, bless his soul, was right to worry. My hope is that you and your colleague Sen. Coleman (who said today bridges are not supposed to fall down) will become the champions of a new initiative to accelerate the maintenance, repair and replacement of our nation’s deteriorating infrastructure. It won’t be easy but you and Sen. Coleman have the moral imperative on your side. You have the pictures. You have the stories. For awhile, anyway, you may have the attention of the American people.

Patrick Sheehy

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