Editorial: Rebuilding America’s infrastructure will prove its exceptionalism

President Donald Trump at his first address to Congress on Tuesday said a lot of interesting things, but the one that caught my attention was his call for a trillion-dollar commitment to rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure.

Roads and highways and bridges and dams, specifically.

If President Trump succeeds in convincing Congress of this necessity after other presidents failed miserably, then his legacy will be cemented and his legion of critics will be silenced.

While Trump didn’t offer details – he had a lot to say – the fact he proposed we embark on such an ambitious public works project was impressive and timely.

Opponents argue that only about 10 percent of the nation’s bridges are so structurally unsound that engineers consider them imminently dangerous.

Ten percent of anything sounds so small, except there are about 607,380 bridges in the U.S. Of those, according to an Associated Press analysis conducted in 2013, more than 65,600 are rated as “structurally deficient,” and nearly 21,000 of them are rated “fracture critical.” Not sure what that means, but is sounds serious.

There are more than 4 million miles of roads in the nation, including Alaska and Hawaii, including more than 47,000 miles of interstate highways and about 180,000 miles of major roads.

We complain about the potholes in Kingman and the deteriorated condition of Interstate 40, especially east of Kingman. Apparently, it’s just that bad most everywhere else, too.

That most people agree with President Trump’s goal to rebuild the nation’s roads and bridges is a given. The breakdown comes in the other side of the equation: How do we pay for all that work?

It’s not cheap, no matter what measurement you use. One might ask: How much does it cost to pave a mile of road? There is no answer because the costs are all over the map, no pun intended.

A rural mile is roughly half as expensive as an urban mile. A mile of six-lane interstate is obviously millions of dollars more expensive than is a mile of two-lane farm road, which is still going to cost about $1 million.

And most of them, 3.18 million miles, are not eligible for federal help. Those must be funded and maintained by local government.

So who pays for what?

Of roughly 4 million miles of roads, nearly 3 million are in rural areas. The nearly 50,000 miles of interstate highways, just over 1 percent of all road miles in America, carry 25 percent of all highway traffic, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Perhaps not surprisingly, nearly one third of all road miles in the U.S. – 1.39 million – are unpaved.

Of the 4 million miles, 16 percent are considered to be “failed” roads. The number is misleading. Only 11 percent of rural roads are in this category, but 26 percent of urban road miles are listed.

Trump should ask for $3 trillion if we really want to fix 65,000 bridges that no longer possess structural integrity and 500,000 miles of roads that have failed or are flirting on the edge of doom.

And while we’re at it, we might want to start a fund that could pay for maintenance and emergency repairs moving forward, so we no longer have to get this far behind again.

All it’s going to take is someone with the skill to negotiate with Congress and transportation officials from 50 states, all who will want a bigger slice of the pie than they’ll get, and someone who can keep the companies that perform the work from spiraling out of control with cost overruns and unanticipated and expensive engineering conundrums to overcome.

Trump can’t do it alone. No one man could usher through what would undoubtedly be one of the largest and most ambitious public works program in history.

Congress needs to find its courage and its faith in the United States. Let’s prove to the world – and ourselves – that American exceptionalism still exists.