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Dennis Martire: Transportation infrastructure glue for blue coalition

| Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, 7:03 p.m.
The Fort Pitt Bridge spans the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh, Friday, June 7, 2013.
Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
The Fort Pitt Bridge spans the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh, Friday, June 7, 2013.

For the Democratic Party, the road to the 2018 elections began the day after the presidential ballots were counted two years ago. Feeling abandoned by what was once seen as the party of the working class, many working men and women cast their votes for Donald Trump and other Republican candidates who talked about job creation and middle-class opportunities.

It has become apparent to some that the Republicans of 2016 had no real intention of helping them. Tax breaks went to corporations and the super-rich, not them. The satisfaction some enjoyed by the fanning of the flames of culture wars wore thin as our economy continued to be an equal opportunity offender, whether you’re a laid-off coal miner or a single mother working three jobs.

And, the 2016 campaign signature promise of passage of a major infrastructure initiative to create good jobs, modernize our transportation systems and improve the daily lives of commuters? Two years later, it is nothing but talk.

As a result, voters gave a historic win to Democrats in the House of Representatives, with nearly 40 seats turning from red to blue. Statehouse and governors’ seats flipped as well.

Pennsylvania provides a case in point, with Democrats flipping three congressional seats, including Conor Lamb’s run-away Pittsburgh-area victory, wins in suburban Philadelphia and shrinking Republican majorities in the state Legislature.

But, Democrats must be warned. The 2018 victory was based more on the need for political change and less on the strength of the Democratic Party. If the party wants this win to mean something in two years, it must get results for working people like those I represent. There is no better opportunity than passing desperately needed infrastructure investment.

In every part of Pennsylvania, the state is in need of transportation infrastructure improvements. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, state roads merit but a “D+” grade. We have double the national average of bridges in poor condition, and the ASCE rates our transit systems a “D.”

And Pennsylvania’s low unemployment rate betrays an economic reality just under the surface: large swaths of workers struggling with low-pay, no-benefit jobs.

It’s a no-brainer: we can create good jobs throughout the state for those who have been left behind while fixing transportation snarls that choke commerce and make life miserable for motorists throughout the state.

Elected officials have talked for years about fixing our nation’s infrastructure. They’ve held photo ops in front of deficient bridges, mouthed statistics on how many hours we waste in traffic and high-lighted the lack of mass transit — but they have offered virtually no action. Transportation infrastructure can and should be a bipartisan issue, but too many Republicans want the good jobs and world-class infrastructure, but are afraid to pay for it.

Infrastructure is the one issue that can break through the polarization haunting our nation. The party that finally gets transportation infrastructure done will benefit in Pennsylvania and in states across the country. Real action that creates good family-supporting jobs and improves daily lives is the glue to a potentially powerful new blue coalition.

Pittsburgh native Dennis Martire is vice president and mid-Atlantic regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which represents 40,000 workers predominantly in the construction industry.

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