A five-year plan. Ten years in the making. $305 billion to be spent on infrastructure. Money for roads and rail projects. Penalties for automakers breaking the law. This is the newest federal transportation bill, and this is why it’s important.

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Our country’s infrastructure has been crumbling for decades. Sometimes around the 1960s to the 1980s, it really does seem like our nation’s leadership just sort of gave up, probably assuming that we’d all be floating on air and paying for things with Reaganbucks, so who cares about the future people – it’ll all be their problem, anyway.

But we’re not all floating on air, and we’re not paying for things with Reaganbucks (not yet). So now we have to upkeep and upgrade the highways and railways and skyways that we have.

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Here’s the most important things in it, via the Wall Street Journal:

Congress Thursday cleared and sent to the White House a five-year, $305 billion highway bill that combines the demands of road builders and unions with the wishes of safety advocates and local transit planners.

The bill—which spans the longest time frame for a transportation measure in 17 years—would provide money for roads and rail projects, renew the Export-Import Bank, and even restore a crop-insurance subsidy.

Ferries would receive money, and seven Northeastern states would get to keep a $1.3 billion pot of funds that amounts to an earmark for their mass-transit systems. Auto companies would face bigger fines for safety defects, and Wisconsin logging trucks could return to roads currently declared off limits.

And all of that, especially the bit about the Wisconsin logging trucks, sounds very boring. Terribly boring, even. But much of it is important, because we need the $207.4 billion in funds to restore our highway system. We need the $48.7 billion apportioned for mass transit (and the piddly eight billion for Amtrak) to get our rail roads working and to help them move our people and cargo. We even need the Export-Import Bank, which is a very complicated thing but suffice it to say that it finances exports of American businesses, hardcore conservative Republicans hated it, most people didn’t hate it, and this is what it does, as told by itself.

But the $105 million penalty for companies that break the law is really such a cute, twee gesture.

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As the WSJ notes, however, there’s a lot of bizarre accounting done to make sure everything is paid for. Oil will be sold from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which we need, private debt collectors will now go after people for unpaid taxes, and money will be taken from a Federal Reserve account. Which is probably the weirdest thing of all, as the money in that account isn’t really Congress’s to take, and it’s supposed to be there as part of the airbag that would stop us from killing ourselves in the event of another, inevitable economic collapse.

But that’s why all of this matters. What’s in the highway bill isn’t just pot holes and bridge repair. Our nation’s transportation system is the artery through which our lifeblood travels. And when it’s all clogged up, we sort of stumble around like someone with atherosclerosis.

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If only we were able to pay for it properly.

For an alternate take, check out Gizmodo’s article here.

Photo credit: AP


Contact the author at ballaban@jalopnik.com.
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