Thursday, November 4, 2010

Crossing the Bridge

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
Luke 14:28-30

This past June was the 75th anniversary of the Sagamore Bridge. As far as I know, the anniversary passed with little fanfare.

People speak of the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges as connecting Cape Cod with the mainland. As a native Cape Codder, I never heard that description until long after I moved away. Cape Cod is not an island, and the canal which was built in 1914 is not the boundary of the Cape. It divides the Cape Cod towns of Sandwich and Bourne. Just a sliver of Sandwich is north of the canal, but almost half of Bourne is cut off.

In Junior High and High School, I rode the school bus across the bridge twice a day. We did not think of ourselves as going to and from the Cape. We were just going back and forth within our town. I have walked or ridden a bicycle over the bridges dozens of times, including the times when the bridge was closed to traffic for repairs, and there were gaping holes just a few feet away.

Simply as a human achievement, the bridges are amazing. I used to wonder how anyone could have built those enormous concrete footings in the canal and laid that massive span 135 feet above high tide.

Growing up on Cape Cod, the bridges were a daily reminder of the huge things undertaken during the great depression. The bridges were built by the Public Works Administration. Of course, people told me how difficult the depression was, but the bridges were a daily counterpoint. When people say that the government can’t do anything right, I think about those bridges and all the other bridges and roads built during the depression.

Economists tell us that without the stimulus of 2009 the economy would be much worse, and I don’t doubt it. My complaint with the stimulus is that it probably was not big enough and not enough of the money went toward infrastructure. Many states, like Rhode Island, simply used the money to balance their budgets, and that minimized the impact. Much of the stimulus went to tax cuts (which no one noticed), that stimulated the economy, but left no lasting achievements.

Bridges and highways, airports, and rail lines provide an economic stimulus in the immediate infusion of funds, but they also lay the groundwork for lasting growth. Our infrastructure is (and has been) crumbling. At some point the legacy of the last great depression will be gone. In order to build a future, we first need to build an infrastructure.

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