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US Senator's View: Infrastructure bill a fix for many day-to-day headaches

From the column: "In Duluth, just a few square miles along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border tell the story of this bill and the transformational impact it promises for local communities."

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R.J. Matson / Cagle Cartoons
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There’s this old parody article from the satirical newspaper the Onion in which a woman complains: “Why isn’t anyone doing anything about all the problems?” We’ve all had those moments of frustration, and there might be no greater source of exasperation than the inconveniences we encounter when we’re just trying to get from one place to another.

I still vividly remember driving around St. Louis Park, Minnesota, years ago, a young mom with two boys in tow and lots of places to be. Like now, getting almost anywhere in that part of the state meant getting on Highway 12. Back then, the road was too narrow for the amount of traffic using it, not to mention it was frequently in disrepair. I spent a lot of time sitting in the station wagon waiting out one pointless traffic jam after another.

This is insane, I thought to myself as my blood pressure spiked and the boys threw snacks at each other in the back seat. Just fix the damn road!

The thing is, we all have a Highway 12 in our daily routines: a road that desperately needs repaving, an intersection that always feels terrifyingly unsafe, or a bus route that’s always running behind schedule. These tiny inconveniences add up, day after day, until we find ourselves at wits end, swearing under our breath at whoever’s job it is to fix the problems.

And it’s not just about convenience; it’s about safety. Too many accidents are caused not by unsafe drivers but by unsafe roads. A big part of my job is traveling around Minnesota, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself on a four-lane rural road, with cars going 60 mph in both directions, needing to make a left turn against traffic, and white-knuckling it the whole time. I think about a school bus or a carful of teenagers or someone just off a midnight shift having to do the same.

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For all the work we do in the Senate, I often wish we could do a better job of connecting to people’s real-life problems. I know that, back when I was living in St. Louis Park, I certainly wasn’t obsessing over the kinds of ideological conflicts that feature on cable news shows these days. I just wanted someone to fix Highway 12!

That brings me to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the fancy Washington name for the big bipartisan infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed into law a couple months back. You might have heard the bill represents the largest long-term investment in our nation’s infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century — or about all the good-paying union jobs economists say it will create. All that good stuff is true.

But I’m especially proud to have helped usher the bill into law because, at its heart, it’s really about fixing the problems you encounter every day.

Minnesota has more than 600 bridges and nearly 5,000 miles of highway in poor condition, and behind every busted bridge or road is a whole lot of unnecessary accidents waiting to happen, not to mention a whole bunch of people waiting in traffic. The infrastructure bill will bring nearly $5 billion in federal aid to Minnesota over the next five years, enough to rebuild countless miles of roads and bridges, like 494 over the Minnesota River in the Twin Cities, Highway 61 over the Pigeon River along the North Shore, and four bridges over 94 in Douglas County, Minnesota.

In Duluth, just a few square miles along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border tell the story of this bill and the transformational impact it promises for local communities. Thanks to the legislation, the Duluth Port has already been awarded much-needed funding, and the St. Louis River that flows into it will continue to be cleaned up. Projects like the Blatnik Bridge replacement may also be funded, a significant improvement for Duluth’s economy.

We’re also going to get $68 million to expand Minnesota’s network of charging stations for electric vehicles; maybe one will be put in near your home or workplace, making an American-made electric vehicle a realistic option.

If you don’t drive, you’ve probably encountered a bus or a train that’s part of the 11% of transit vehicles in Minnesota in need of replacement because it’s past its useful life. There’s good news for you, too: Minnesota’s going to get more than $800 million to improve public transportation. That means newer, safer buses and more on-time arrivals.

Speaking of on-time, there’s no worse place to be delayed than an airport, and our nation’s outdated airports are responsible for all kinds of delays and other inconveniences. That’s why the bill also includes nearly $300 million to upgrade our air infrastructure — not just at MSP but at the regional airports that are such important connections for greater-Minnesota families and businesses.

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Upgrading our transportation infrastructure is going to eliminate a lot of inconveniences, create a lot of jobs, and prevent a lot of accidents. But this new law does even more.

Right now, as many as 10 million American households and 400,000 schools and child care centers lack safe drinking water. That isn’t just an inconvenience; it's a health crisis. The infrastructure law is going to get rid of lead service pipes and make sure that every single American family has access to clean water.

There’s funding to clean up Superfund sites, too, some that have just been sitting there for years, making our neighborhoods less beautiful and leaching pollution into our air and water. There’s funding to make our power grid more resilient so fewer people will lose electricity when there’s a big storm. There’s funding for flood protection, including funding to finish the Army Corps of Engineers project to control the Red River during major floods, allowing Fargo and Moorhead to breathe a little easier along the Minnesota-North Dakota border.

There’s even funding to fix one of the most obnoxious problems anyone could face: a bad internet connection. It’s insane that, in 2022, tens of thousands of Minnesotans don’t have access to broadband. But that’s going to change, thanks to the infrastructure law.

Will this new law fix all the problems? No, but it will make a direct and immediate impact in nearly everyone’s lives, including yours. It’s exactly the kind of thing Washington ought to spend time working on — and exactly the kind of thing I went to the Senate to get done.

Sen. Tina Smith represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.

Tina Smith
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith

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