"How long will it take," I thought, as I watched the coverage of the collapsed bridge outside of Minneapolis, "before someone blames President George W. Bush?" It turns out, not long.
As divers attempted to locate possible victims submerged in the murky waters of the Mississippi, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said, "I think we should look at this tragedy that occurred as a wake-up call for us. We have -- all over the country -- crumbling infrastructure, highways, bridges, dams, and we really need to take a hard look at this." Calling it "the right thing to do" for the infrastructure and the economy, Reid said, "For every billion dollars we spend in our crumbling infrastructure, 47,000 high-paying jobs are created." Reid also implicated the White House, "Since 9/11 we have taken our eye off the ball."
The way bridge maintenance became the job of the federal government requires explaining.
How many people know that the federal government played virtually no role in the construction of the first coast-to-coast highway? The Lincoln Highway, an improved, hard-surfaced road spanning 3,400 miles from New York City to San Francisco, was conceived and built in the early 1900s, and relied heavily on private and corporate donations for funding. Private-sector visionaries, with the assistance of state and local taxpayers, established the Lincoln Highway in 1913 -- three years before the first federal highway funding (1916), and 12 years before the numerical route marking of the first interstate systems (1925). Entrepreneur Carl Fisher, who conceived the idea for the highway, built headlights for cars. Wanting motorists to drive at night, Fisher pushed for improved roads, which ultimately led to the paving of then mostly dirt roads.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, on the grounds of national security, sought and received congressional funds to construct the federal Interstate Highway System in the 1950s. But Eisenhower also touted the economic benefits of the highway -- thus corrupting and expanding the framers' intent of the commerce clause in the Constitution.
We now have a federal highway system. But why does the federal government -- rather than the states -- continue to bear the responsibility of its maintenance?
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