Earlier this year I attended a conference in a city I will not name, because I don’t want to bash anyone and because I’m sure the situation there isn’t different from other cities. The situation was the literally crumbling roads and bridges I saw while riding from the conference hotel to the airport. I remember thinking: 1) I’m glad I’m not on THAT overpass, and 2) this is what people from other countries see when they come here. It’s embarrassing. It takes a toll on our national pride and spirit. It takes a toll on our economy.
My focus at Farm Bureau is rural America, and unfortunately the infrastructure there is no better. Thousands of bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Narrow rural roads can be hazardous; road fatalities in rural America are 2.5 times higher per mile than on urban roads. Farmers and ranchers depend on rural roads and bridges to move their products to market. Then, our products often are loaded onto barges that ply the inland waterways. That inland waterway system also needs reinvestment and rebuilding. Locks and dams were built in the 1920s and 30s to last about 50 years; the expiration date has come and gone.
There are many other infrastructure needs, including building out our broadband network and reinvesting in agricultural research facilities to meet global food demand.
So I’m glad the Trump administration plans to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. The administration’s plan will be changed, and challenged, as Congress works to pay for it. But at least there’s a focus on addressing needs that have been neglected for too long.
I’m reminded of President Kennedy’s “moon” speech delivered in 1962 during the space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills….” Kennedy’s speech was intended to rally America to boldness and confidence that we could do big things. It’s time to prove to ourselves and the rest of the world that we can still do big things, that our nation is just as great as it was when our highways, bridges, ports and dams were first built. The way to do that is to rebuild them now.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.