Last week on the Senate floor, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., made an impassioned plea. He said, “I hope we can again rely on humility, on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other to learn how to trust each other again and by so doing better serve the people who elected us.”
I, too, am hopeful we can do that. In fact, I know we can. I know we can find a bipartisan response to pressing challenges — like repairing, modernizing and adding to the infrastructure on which we all rely. I know it because I’ve seen it happen in my own state of Minnesota.
On Aug. 1, 2007, a little after 6 p.m., the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed across the Mississippi River.
I’ll never forget the shock and horror of that day. A bridge shouldn’t just fall down in the middle of America. Not a bridge that’s a few blocks from my house. Not an eight-lane highway. Not a bridge that I drive over with my family every day, along with tens of thousands of Minnesotans.
But that’s what happened.
Our state came together in the aftermath of the collapse, and so did the Senate. Our reaction was quick, and it was bipartisan. In just three days, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and I worked together to secure $250 million in emergency bridge reconstruction funding. And the bridge, with the strong support of the Bush administration, was rebuilt in just one year.
Ten years later, everyone in Minnesota still remembers the day that bridge collapsed. Families mourn their loved ones who were among the 13 killed. The 145 people who were injured still reel from the tragedy.
And the Senate?
Well, we have made some progress. In 2015, Democrats and Republicans together passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which increased transportation funding and helped give certainty to local governments planning critical projects.
But we need to do more. This year the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s infrastructure a grade of “D+.” While other countries are running ahead with infrastructure investments, we’re standing still. And in an increasingly competitive global economy, standing still means falling behind.
We need to build roads, bridges, airports, locks, dams and rail that work for this century — not the last one. And let’s not forget about updating our energy grid, repairing and replacing our water infrastructure and sewers, and making sure all Americans have access to broadband
If our deteriorating infrastructure goes unaddressed, it will cost our economy nearly $4 trillion by 2025, leading to the loss of 2.5 million jobs. But if we address it, we can create millions of jobs.
Many of us already are working together.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., have proposed an infrastructure financing authority that would offer new incentives to increase private sector spending. Another idea is to give U.S. multinational corporations incentives to bring back the trillions of dollars of foreign earnings they hold overseas, and then use part of that money to rebuild our infrastructure here at home.
But these tools should supplement — not replace — direct federal funding, which is essential, especially in rural America. In many parts of our country, geography and population density can make it difficult to attract private investment. These communities depend on federal investments to maintain and upgrade their transportation systems and stay competitive. And we know that it’s an investment worth making. Because when rural America succeeds, we all do.
Rural communities are also relying on federal investments to address emerging challenges like broadband access. Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and I, together with our colleagues in both parties, have urged the Trump administration to include high-speed, reliable broadband for all Americans as part of any infrastructure initiative.
So far, we haven’t seen a serious infrastructure initiative from the administration. But on election night, the president-elect identified it as a priority and as an area he wanted to work on with Congress. And Senate Democrats put together a $1 trillion infrastructure plan during the first days of this administration.
It’s time to get to work — together — to make this happen. I believe the Senate is the place to make it happen. The American people are counting on us to bridge our divides and get this done. They should not have to wait until another bridge collapses.