Chart from Infrastructure USA’s report “Building…

Chart from Infrastructure USA’s report “Building America’s Future”

Seventy thousand bridges in America are structurally deficient. Fixing this and other critical problems with our national infrastructure is a policy no-brainer.
In this year’s State of the Union address, President Obama unveiled his “fix it first” plan, a $50 billion program for repairing the nation’s roads, highways, bridges and transit systems. Although this is a step in the right direction, the plan should also meet the concerns of the newly emerging transportation-justice movement, about which we have heard nothing from the president so far.
The Obama administration last directed major funds toward infrastructure as a part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The government spent more than $31 billion, with a focus on “shovel-ready” projects.
By contrast, the new fix-it-first plan would spend most of the initial funds on sites that are “most in need of repair,” according to a summary the White House shared with the New York Times. A smaller portion, $10 billion, would go toward a national infrastructure bank. Finally, the administration has vowed to cut red tape and, according to The Hill, to “encourage public-private partnerships, leveraging the initial government funding to increase private sector spending on transportation.”
These proposals are a good start, but the plan should also be evaluated for fairness.
In fact the phrase “fix it first” originated with activists primarily concerned with fairness. These are community groups, faith-based organizations, labor unions, and other activists throughout the country who see themselves as part of a movement to ensure that public transit services meet the needs of the actual public. They are drawing attention to the fact that effective public transportation is a vital part of an integrated social justice agenda.
In the transit justice community, “fix it first” means that the government should prioritize maintaining existing roads and transit resources over spending money on widening roads or building new expressways that encourage sprawl.
That the administration has borrowed language of transportation advocates is a good sign. But it should go further. In this latest push for infrastructure spending, the message should not only be “fix it first” but also “fix it fair.”

Read the rest of Amy B. Dean’s op-ed “Fix It Fair: Repair Our Crumbling Infrastructure the Right Way.”

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