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Editorial: Our infrastructure screams for care

Many issues demand our nation’s attention and money these days.

Under normal times, this juggling act is be hard for Congress to handle. But when our elected legislative body can’t agree that any spending at all is necessary, let along identify priorities when it comes to appropriations, we’re faced with a bad situation.

This conundrum is particularly clear when it comes to our infrastructure: roads, bridges, tunnels, railroads and public buildings. For every project like the Franklin County Courthouse and its multimillion-dollar renovation (which is long overdue, we might add) there are many other examples of deteriorating infrastructure elsewhere in the country that wait for such attention.

And while they wait, their conditions continue to worsen. Visually, we can see pieces falling off bridges, potholes emerging and building roofs leaking.

But what is less obvious is the growing costs. These deficiencies, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, are expected to increase the cost of doing business by roughly $430 billion over the next decade. The society gave the country a D-plus in 2013.

That money that could be better spent.

In some ways, the problem is simple. Demand outstrips the availability of money, and the longer we wait, the greater the gap becomes.

What’s not simple is the unwillingness — or inability — of Congress to actually to something about this. One easy step would be to boost the money available for the Highway Trust Fund. But Congress has to act quickly since the U.S. Department of Transportation is projecting that the fund will face a deficit at the end of September when the books close on the 2014 federal fiscal year. If that money runs out, federal projects would come to a screeching halt and we can only imagine the negative impact it would have on the economy.

One possible revenue source would be an increase in the federal gas tax, something that hasn’t happened since 1993. We realize that would be an unpopular choice, but Congress should realize that there isn’t one solution — no “magic bullet” — and short-term fixes aren’t going to solve the problem.

It’s time for our elected representatives to step back and look at the big picture when it comes to the U.S. infrastructure.

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