Valerie Vinyard

Our infrastructure is crumbling around us. 

An example is the bridge that collapsed last month near Desert Center, Calif. It closed a section of I-10 and led to hundreds of calls, inquiries and re-routed trips from AAA members. 

Luckily, this was mostly just an inconvenience to motorists and will entail a costly fix for California. Starting July 24, one lane will be open in each direction while the roadway and bridge are being repaired.

In the near future, though, it might not take “extreme flooding” to cause a bridge to collapse and close a major highway. Our roadways are deteriorating faster than we can repair or replace them, and it’s only a matter of time until they start failing.

“This is the one of the biggest interstate shutdowns in recent history,” said Linda Gorman, director of communications and public affairs for AAA Arizona. “If we don’t find ways to pay to maintain our roadways, this is going to become more and more common.”

For years, Congress has been passing makeshift, last-minute bills that are in effect for a few months at a time to supply funding for essential road repairs. These temporary fixes are mere Band-Aids for the major arterials that crisscross our nation. Even an occasional collapsed bridge or other roadway failure effectively shuts down a variety of business and commerce needed to keep our economy strong.

Before Congress leaves town for its month-long summer break in August, it’s important that its members finally act with conviction and pass a long-term bill that will fund our infrastructure. 

Currently, gas taxes have funded our infrastructure needs. The federal gasoline tax is 18.4 cents a gallon, of which 18.3 cents goes to the highway trust fund. 

However, factors such as improved gas mileage, an increasing number of vehicles that don’t require gas and a struggling economy don’t bring in enough revenue. As a safety advocate, AAA believes it’s time to consider all funding options, including taking a hard look at the federal gas tax. 

The House recently passed a five-month Highway Trust Fund patch. Senators are working on a six-year, $275 billion bill, though it’s mired in arguments on how to pay for funding. For example, the Senate’s plan includes a plan to take $30 billion in savings from a federal employee retirement savings plan, though that’s come under fire from Democrats. 

The White House supports the short-term extension of the highway program, “to give the House and Senate the necessary time to complete work on a long-term bill this year that increases investment to meet the nation’s infrastructure needs.” 

Congress can no longer afford to wait — its members cannot not pass something that guarantees funding for our roads and bridges.

It’s time to be decisive, before a collapsed bridge becomes more than an inconvenience and instead a tragedy.

AAA is a leader in traffic safety. Go to aaa.com/trafficsafety.

Valerie Vinyard is a public affairs specialist for AAA Arizona. Contact her at vvinyard@arizona.aaa.com or at 520-258-0518.

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