We’ve all heard that the current administration is hoping to pump $1 Trillion dollars into infrastructure spending in the coming years. This type of rhetoric has been slung by almost every President since I’ve been alive and probably more. “We need to fix our roads and bridges!” often evoking the painful memories of the 35W bridge collapse in Minnesota. Who could be so heartless as to not want to fix a bridge?
These proposals are often innocuous, or at least so vanilla that they are palatable to members of any political affiliation (except members of the Strong Towns party). They also often claim to have bipartisan support or at least aim to.
The problem with these bills is that they are high-level. Drafted almost like there is some kind of infrastructure vending machine that we can throw money into and expect great results. “A billion here, two billion there and maybe a couple hundred million down over yonder.” The reality, however, is obviously far tougher.
This is becoming evident in the tiny town of Waldorf, MN. They have asked the state legislature for $2m (a paltry amount) to fix their near defunct water treatment system. The residents and local officials have already figured out a way to raise $10m to cover the rest of the expenses, the amount they are requesting from the state is the gap. A city of 250ish people, Waldorf’s bill would settle up at around $40k per person (not including the tip.)
However, this begs the awkward question… Why should we pay for this?
On the outside, it’s pretty clear that Waldorf does very little for the state as a whole and that even fixing its infrastructure is probably not going to save it from its inevitable death. It’s not on a railway, it’s not on a river, and it’s not on a major highway, this would be giving a new liver to stage 5 cancer patient.
It’s somewhat in the American ethos to “settle the land” and I think some of that “manifest destiny” ideology has held on for a long time, but a loss is a loss any way you cut the cake. While what they are asking for is small, it simply serves no purpose and benefits a stark minority. This is not taking into account the LGA that the city probably already receives or the subsidies for the highway that appears to serve them alone.
Waldorf is a canary in the coal mine for many Minnesota communities, it’s the victim of the urbanization and suburbanization along with the death of family farms. I actually feel quite bad, I think that small towns just like Waldorf add to the rich tapestry of rural culture that we have in Minnesota, but feelings don’t repair necessary infrastructure.
If we are not going to fix their infrastructure, the question now is does the state resettle them? Does the state owe them, as citizens, money to move somewhere else? No matter your view on what should happen, I think that the Waldorf situation and others like it will raise serious ethical questions in the years to come. Not only about infrastructure and our inability to pay for it, but the real impact it will have on people’s lives.
Featured photo from Lakes and Woods