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Viewpoint: Infrastructure bill is a historic win for Delaware

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Ted Januszka | PHOTO COURTESY OF ACEC DELAWARE

Democrats and Republicans in the Senate just passed a massive $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal – a rarity in today’s intensely partisan world. The compromise represents a huge step forward for Delaware, providing resources to ease our long backlog of civil infrastructure needs and lay the foundations for decades of future growth.

No legislation is ever perfect, and some opponents will argue about one thing or another as the bill now moves to the House of Representatives. Some on the left want price control regulations, and some on the right think it is important to reign in the growing federal deficit.

But this is a time for elected leaders in both parties to take “yes” for an answer. The perfect can’t be the enemy of the remarkably good.

And remarkably good it is: The deal will invest $550 billion over the next five years to build and repair roads, bridges, public transportation, and water and sewer systems. These resources will speed repairs for the 16% of Delaware’s roads rated in poor condition, and fund a down payment on the $806 million in drinking water system investments our state will need over the next 20 years as Delaware’s population grows.

The deal also commits $65 billion to expanding broadband access and closing the digital divide. Encouragingly, it takes some really smart approaches toward this goal, learning the lessons from past failures and past successes to fuse together a plan likely to finally get the job done.

The 2009 stimulus program wasted billions of broadband dollars building duplicative networks in areas that already had high-speed service available. Learning from that experience, this bipartisan deal will first fund the unserved communities with no internet service at all. And after we wire these broadband deserts, any money left over can be spent upgrading speeds in areas with slower, outdated networks. The dollars will go where they’re truly needed, not splurged on luxury projects in already-wired areas.

Making high-speed service available in every corner of our state is only half the battle: we also must make sure every family has the means, skills and motivation to connect. Building on the foundations of hugely successful private sector discount programs, this legislation extends a federal subsidy program for low-income families up to $30 a month to buy home internet service. And it commits billions to funding the outreach and education programs needed to teach and mentor in disconnected communities.

This is a historic opportunity to close the digital divide, and both parties should come together to support it. But special interest lobbyists and think tank idealogues who failed to get their pet priorities into the Senate’s bill may now look to torpedo the bill in the House in a misplaced hope of getting a better deal down the line. Some want price control regulations on broadband providers, while others want to get local governments into the business of building and operating broadband networks to create more competition.

For the sake of Delaware’s future, and the country’s, we need our leaders to saying no to this professional beltway class who seem eager to gamble away a historic victory on the almost non-existent chance of passing something better in the future. Punting away a painstakingly negotiated bipartisan deal right as we reach the goal line would be a monumentally bad decision. This is a time for both parties to reach across the aisle and say that “compromise” isn’t a dirty word.

Delaware has a long, proud history of electing pragmatic leaders who value progress over paralysis. Joe Biden’s leadership forged this bipartisan deal, Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons have both voted to support it, and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester has joined dozens of her House colleagues in arguing for exactly the kind of pragmatic solutions now reflected in the bill.

Delaware’s officials should continue leading the way to push this vitally important bill forward – and help lead the way to sustained infrastructure investment.

Ted Januszka, PE is the former president of American Council of Engineering Companies of Delaware.  He resides in Newark, DE.

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