“Folks, it's not sufficient to build back, we have to build back better. That's why my plan is to build back better.” Joe Biden, July 9
On March 31, President Joe Biden unveiled an ambitious infrastructure plan, the American Jobs Plan, to deal with many of our county’s infrastructure issues. These include decaying bridges, deteriorating dams and levees, crumbling roads, lack of clean drinking water, inadequate broadband across the country, and failing electrical grids.
Most Americans are in favor of improving our infrastructure, and the provisions of the president’s plan are extremely popular. A recent poll showed 73 percent of voters support Biden’s plan, including 67 percent of independents and 57 percent of Republicans (Common Dreams, April 6).
To pay for the plan, 65 percent of voters approve of hiking corporate taxes, including 42 percent of Republicans (Business Insider, April 8).
As expected, Republican leaders rose up to criticize everything Biden proposed, even though for four years they’d presented no plan of their own. Their main criticism was the cost, $2.3 trillion over 10 years, although they’d had no problem with a $1.9 trillion tax cut in 2017 that mostly benefited the already wealthy. And of course, they’re ignoring the economic benefits of improved infrastructure. Their vision is narrow and short-sighted.
In our country’s history, we have implemented several major governmental infrastructure projects which improved our lives in countless ways. Each project cost multi-millions or even billions, but it’s impossible to imagine what our economy and society would be like without these ventures.
One of the biggest projects in our history began under President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 with the Pacific Railroad Act. This act authorized the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroad Companies to build a Transcontinental Railroad system connecting the country from east to west. The project was completed in 1869. The total cost in 1869 dollars was around $111.5 million. That’s equivalent to $2.9 billion today.
To finance the project, the federal government issued bonds to pay for construction and granted land to the railroads. What did we get in return for this massive investment? Before the Transcontinental Railroad was built, it took months of grueling travel to cross the U.S. and cost $1,000. After completion, the same trip took less than a week and cost $150. The West was opened to development and America’s economy expanded rapidly.
Another project that transformed America was the Interstate Highway System. Under President Dwight Eisenhower, Congress passed the Federal Highway Act of 1956, and construction of the interstate highway system began. The original system, covering 40,000 miles, was completed in September 1991 at a cost of $114 billion, equivalent to $612 billion today. The system has been expanded many times since, at additional cost.
An infrastructure project crucial to Nevada was the construction of Hoover Dam. The idea for Hoover Dam was suggested in 1921. After years of advance preparation, the first concrete was poured in June 1933. The dam was dedicated on Sept. 30, 1935, and in 1936 the hydroelectric generators began producing electricity.
Hoover Dam cost $49 million, which is equivalent to $750 million today. The power plant generates 4 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, supplying three states. Lake Mead’s water storage is also essential. Without Hoover Dam, Nevada would be a very different state.
In 2021, the American Society of Civil Engineers graded our infrastructure C-, estimating it will take $2.122 trillion to bring it up to “satisfactory” condition. (Washington Post, April 6)
Biden’s American Jobs Plan will go a long way toward correcting these deficiencies. Republican leaders are trying to say America can’t afford such an ambitious plan.
Could we afford to build the Transcontinental Railroad in the middle of the Civil War? Of course not. Was it worth it anyway? The resulting rapid economic and social growth clearly says “Yes.”
Could we afford to build Hoover Dam during the Great Depression? Of course not. Was it worth it anyway? Try to imagine Nevada without the water and electricity the dam supplies.
Could we afford the Interstate Highway system? It’s impossible to envision modern America without it. It’s estimated that the return on investment was $6 of economic growth for every dollar spent constructing the system. The projects included in the American Jobs Plan will give us a similar return on investment. They will make America stronger, healthier and more prosperous.
This is a project we can’t afford not to do, a project that will benefit every American. We should all support it.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.