Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A 90-year-old water main breaks in Prince George's County, Maryland, and almost drowns a family. A WPA could have prevented that.

(In the video above, we see a water main break, "nearly costing a family its lives," in Prince George's County, Maryland, on Tuesday, January 27, 2015. Original YouTube link here.)

A water main installed in 1924--when Calvin Coolidge was the president of the United States--broke in Bladensburg, Maryland (Prince George's County) yesterday, severely damaging a road, flooding basements, and almost drowning a family in their car as it slowly sank into a water-filled sinkhole.

The break occurred yesterday at 3:30am, and the Associated Press reports that "Area residents, including one barefoot woman, could be seen carrying garbage bags full of their belongings from their homes in freezing morning temperatures" ("Family's car swallowed by giant sinkhole after Bladensburg water main break," ABC 7, January 27, 2015).

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) reports that the incident "was the 375th broken or leaking water main to need repair in their service area since Jan. 1." The WSSC's service area includes parts of both Montgomery and Prince George's Counties. At this pace, they'll have well over 4,000 broke or leaking water mains to repair this year. And we know that the numbers across the country will go well into the hundreds of thousands (see "Drinking Water," 2013 Infrastructure Report Card, American Society of Civil Engineers).   

If we had a new WPA, to hire and train some of the 22 million Americans who want a full-time job but can't find one, things like this could be prevented. Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA installed 124 miles of new water lines in Maryland, and 16,000 miles of new water lines across the country. The Public Works Administration, another New Deal program, funded many other waterworks improvements in Maryland and the nation. 

Make no mistake about it: New Deal investment in infrastructure was massive. Today, however, the story is quite different. With Republicans spending most of their time trying to secure tax breaks for the super-wealthy, and trying to deregulate our fraud-ridden financial sector, there is little hope for improving America's infrastructure. As Time Magazine's senior national correspondent wrote last year, "no matter how much Republicans say they care about infrastructure, they’re not going to accept any infrastructure proposals that come from President Barack Obama...Republicans say nice things about infrastructure but haven’t shown any interest in paying for it. As a result, the nation has failed to take advantage of historically low interest rates to invest more in our overcrowded airports, outdated railways and flimsy bridges."

(Also see "Senate GOP blocks $60B Obama infrastructure plan," Associated Press, USA Today, November 3, 2011, "The Stunning Collapse of Infrastructure Spending in One Chart," ThinkProgress, November 1, 2013, and "Will America's Roads and Highways Ever Get Fixed," CBS News, January 27, 2015)

Meanwhile, some on the political right tell us that concerns about crumbling infrastructure are just ginned-up and nothing more than "scare tactics." I wonder if the family in Bladensburg, Maryland thought--as their car was dropping into the sinkhole--"No need to worry, this is probably just a scare tactic by those gosh-dern, big government liberals!"  

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