Will the Fix Be In

The 2008 Republican National Convention will begin September 1, 2008 in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul. The question is whether the candidates vying to become the next President of the United States will take on the big idea recently illuminated by the collapse of that community's Interstate 35W bridge into the Mississippi River: the physical foundation of greater Great Lakes society - if not the nation - appears to be falling apart.

The bridge collapse in Minneapolis is not an isolated incident. It's yet another sign of an ongoing pattern of failure to maintain the basic physical structures on which Americans increasingly depend. Consider what's happened around the Great Lakes recently:

A power outage in Buffalo reveals overstressed power lines.

A water main explodes in Detroit, MI and shuts down a highway.

Jails and court buildings deemed unsafe in suburban Milwaukee.

A water main explodes in Grand Haven, MI and snarls traffic during the annual Coast Guard Festival.

Aging electricity and natural gas lines in Cleveland.

A water main explodes in Chicago, IL and prevents auto travelers from entering O'Hare, a major international airport.

A leaking landfill in Muskego, WI

Good thing the greater Great Lakes region has barely seen a spit of rain this summer or we could tick off a long list of beach closings due to sewer failures.

Heck, even the "new stuff" is showing its age, like the public art statue on the Muskegon, MI waterfront pictured above.

Admittedly, the topic of infrastructure is about as exciting as a root canal. But, as Minneapolis reminds us, human life depends on it. So does a strong economy and a clean environment. Well-maintained roads, dams, electric grids, sewer and water lines, and other public works play an increasingly important role in America's civic stature.

Yet, amidst ballooning government deficits and a wildly expensive war, the nation lacks a basic plan and funding to maintain and enhance its physical structures. And the current president, a Republican, is vetoing good bipartisan ideas to reverse the trend. Disinvestment has become the norm.

Leadership requires more than a flyover after the levees break or a tour of the rubble as rescue workers drag cars out of the river. What's needed is a serious and long-lasting strategy to ramp up investment in the nation's aging infrastructure. 'The Big Fix' must no longer be ignored.