Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A water main installed in 1925 breaks in Hyattsville, Maryland: Homes flooded, communication lines damaged, and roads closed "for a few days"

(WPA infrastructure work in Maryland, 1937. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Yesterday, a 90-year-old water main broke in Hyattsville, Maryland, causing flooded basements, utility damage, and road closures that will last "for a few days." One resident said, "This entire road was covered in water. We had water coming in the basement door and water coming in the side of the house.” Another resident said, "I’ve got a five-gallon jug of water to tide us over, hopefully until they get that fixed" (see "Lanes closed on Baltimore Ave due to Hyattsville water main break," WUSA 9, January 13, 2015, and "More water main breaks plaguing D.C. area," ABC 7, January 13, 2015).

Hyattsville is in Prince George's County, right outside our nation's capital. The county has had its fair share of infrastructure problems. See, for example:

Indeed, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which serves a large portion of Prince George's County, reports that 2014 was a "record year that saw a total of 2,080 water main breaks, tying the mark set in 2010 for the second most in the history of WSSC."

Of course, this is not necessarily surprising, given that the American Society of Civil Engineers told us in 2013 that there are about a quarter of a million water main breaks across the nation, every single year. And these breaks are occurring, in large part, because our water line infrastructure "is nearing the end of its useful life."

Meanwhile, as these quarter of a million water line breaks are damaging our roads, damaging other utilities, flooding our basements, and causing traffic problems, "free-market" enthusiasts plead with us to ignore the facts and don't pay attention to what we're seeing. For example, writing in Forbes, Dr. Paul Roderick Gregory said in 2013, "To convince a wary public to spend more with trillion dollar deficits, big government advocates must gin up a national infrastructure emergency..." Yep, it's the bogeyman BIG GOVERNMENT that's the real problem, not water lines that sometimes date back to the Civil War. Those damn liberals!

(A power plant in Culpepper, Virginia, built during the New Deal era with funds from the Public Works Administration. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

As we see with climate science, evolution, and economics, the political right & free-market enthusiasts tend to ignore facts and actual life experience. They'll look at wages that have declined right alongside the decline of unions and declare "Unions are bad for workers!" They'll look at historically low tax rates on the super-wealthy and scream, "By golly, taxes are stifling the job creators!" And, as we see with crumbling infrastructure, they'll look at 100-year-old water lines and 240,000 annual water line breaks, and defiantly sneer, "It's nothing but a ginned-up problem" (see, "Senate GOP blocks $60B Obama infrastructure plan," USA Today, November 3, 2011). Sometimes the insanity is so intense that you have to pinch yourself and ask, "Did someone push me down the rabbit hole?"  

During the New Deal era, there were no hallucinations that old or damaged water lines were going to magically replace themselves, and no hallucinations that water lines were going to miraculously appear wherever new communities or business areas needed them. No, unlike our lazy charlatans today, New Deal policymakers understood the need for infrastructure investment. They understood that hard work was needed to actually open the ground and lay down 16,000 miles of new water lines across the country, as WPA workers did between 1935 and 1943. Even Ronald Reagan understood the value of the WPA, writing in his autobiography, "The WPA was one of the most productive elements of FDR's alphabet soup of agencies because it put people to work building roads, bridges, and other gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it."

Of course, today, the political right has become so extreme & corrupt (along with quite a few Democrats too) that infrastructure improvement is not even on their radar screen. Instead: "The GOP's First Priority for 2015: Paying Off Wall Street."

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