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Steve Israel: Going bold will be worth the cost

Workers patch potholes along the westbound Long Island

Workers patch potholes along the westbound Long Island Expressway, between Exits 57 and 59, in Islandia on March 9, 2021. Credit: James Carbone

There are moments when the American people decide to do big, bold things that transform the country and remake the landscape of places like Long Island. Those moments are usually necessitated by crisis, including President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s decision to build the interstate highway system and President John F. Kennedy’s call to land Americans on the moon. Now, as we emerge from the greatest economic and health disaster in a century, President Joe Biden proposes $2 trillion for what he calls a "once-in-a-generation" fix of America’s infrastructure.

Biden proposes to rebuild 20,000 miles of road, repair 10,000 bridges, jump-start domestic manufacturing, modernize public transportation, revitalize airports, expand broadband, eliminate lead pipes from America’s drinking water supply and more. He plans to fund the program with an increase in the corporate tax.

Few federal initiatives would impact Long Island more favorably than this. Since every billion dollars invested in infrastructure creates 50,000 jobs, this will not only rebuild our infrastructure but reboot labor markets from traditional trades to green technologies.

Look around our region and you will see how our economy was transformed by similar initiatives.

After America entered World War II, companies like Grumman, which started in an abandoned auto showroom garage in Baldwin, expanded, helping ramp up the wartime industrial production economy and making Long Island a defense capital of America.

In 1956, Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act. The $25 billion program authorized the construction of 41,000 miles of interstate highway and was the largest public works program in American history at the time. Eisenhower called for a new American highway system that would link our military bases, transport troops and be used to evacuate cities in case of a nuclear attack. That single measure had a profound effect on the American economy.

Nassau and Suffolk were linked to a new national transportation network. You could drive from Riverhead, New York to Riverside, California seamlessly. It became easier and cheaper to deliver food and goods. New jobs were created for designers, engineers, pavers and builders.

But the lack of investment in maintenance has been corrosive. Those potholes and patches on the Long Island Expressway now stretch across the country. The Biden plan will, literally, fix that.

In 1957, the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite, beating America in the first leg of the Space Race. Undaunted, Kennedy called on the country to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Long Island met that call — researching, developing and manufacturing many of the essential components for the space program, including the lunar landing module. Once again, local businesses altered the landscape and powered our economy.

Today, that landscape has deteriorated. Budget pressure on all levels of government has dried up revenues for infrastructure. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, our roads get a grade of D-, our bridges D+, and our civil aviation and water supplies a C.

That is exactly why Congress should pass the Biden proposal, especially now, as we are emerging from the pandemic. Biden’s sweeping plan to rebuild American infrastructure will be hard and, yes, expensive. But Americans have triumphed in crisis in the past, and we can do so again.

Former Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat from Huntington, served in Congress from 2001 to 2017.

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