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After a long road, be thankful for infrastructure funding

If you're still uncertain about whether the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill was a good idea, maybe this story out of rural North Dakota will influence you.

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A wet 2019, and an October 2019 blizzard in particular, led to road flooding in Stutsman County's Peterson Township. Photo taken March 31, 2019, near Medina, North Dakota. Jenny Schlecht / Agweek
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A few months back, I remember seeing a post on Facebook from some prominent person who was railing against spending billions or trillions of dollars on infrastructure. It went something along the lines of, I've flown over the whole country, and our infrastructure isn't crumbling.

I'd like to invite that person, who I assume opposed infrastructure spending because of inane political reasons, to hop out of the plane. Rural North Dakotans could show him crumbling infrastructure here on the ground.

I've written a fair amount about rural infrastructure , and Agweek and other news sources have run numerous stories bemoaning the state of infrastructure. But, if you're still uncertain about the necessity of the recently passed $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, let me add my story to the mix.

We had an extremely wet year in 2019. It was so wet that water came up from places we'd never seen water before. A neighbor kept warning us that our main road to town was in danger. We initially didn't see how it was possible that the water from sloughs that at that point were far from the road could ever get that close. But slowly, his prediction came true, and before we knew it, the lapping waves were covering the road .

Our township, like others in the area, has limited funds and certainly did not have the money for a major grade raise.

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Rural infrastructure across the U.S. has deficiencies, and roads, many of which were not built to support modern large farm machinery, are among the most pressing concerns. Photo taken in Peterson Township in Stutsman County, North Dakota, on Aug. 31, 2020. Jenny Schlecht / Agweek

Technically, we had another route to town. One turned an 8-mile drive into a 20-mile drive, and from our house, we had to drive through the ditch in several places because of additional wet spots to use that route. Another route also went under water for a time. But because we had another route, however impractical and dangerous, few in government, outside of our immediate area, seemed inclined to help.

Sen. Terry Wanzek, who represents us in the North Dakota Legislature, did care. A longtime advocate for effective rural infrastructure , he offered up whatever information he could. Our township board scrambled to apply for available funding. But repairs take time, and we still had a long path to get to town. So Wanzek and his family, who farm some fields in our township, let us make a path through a soybean field, thus saving us and our neighbors many miles and more than a little frustration.

I still shudder to think what would have happened in those months if someone in our township had needed an ambulance or fire truck. Emergency crews never would have made it. Someone very well could have died, all because of our crumbling infrastructure.

Our road is higher now. But anyone who has driven on our roads can attest to the fact that they're still not good. Crumbling would actually be a pretty apt word in some places. And there's another township to the south of us that continues to struggle with repairs, and the folks down there continue to make due with long drives or make-shift roads.

So, this year, I'm thankful that national level politicians — at least some of them — were able to put their immaturity aside and pass a bill that actually should have a positive impact on the people of this country who aren't just flying over. While I talk about roads, others need bridges or broadband or water or public transit or other necessities. The needs are plenty, and not taking care of them would cost us far more than $1.2 trillion in the long run.

I'm not overly optimistic that any of those dollars will trickle down all the way to the rural townships of North Dakota. My fingers are crossed that this will be the beginning of more movements of people who toss off unnecessary political labels to actually do their jobs. But I'm not holding my breath.

To read more of Jenny Schlecht's The Sorting Pen columns, click here.

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Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.

Related Topics: THE SORTING PEN
Jenny Schlecht is the editor of Agweek and Sugarbeet Grower Magazine. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.
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