08/07/2007 01:34 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

How About A New WPA To Rebuild Our Nation's Infrastructure?


Back in the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration put millions of unemployed Americans to work constructing public buildings, houses and roads. That's one of their "here's what we do" drawings from that period.

According to Wikipedia, the WPA built 650,000 miles of roads, 78,000 bridges, 125,000 buildings, and 700 miles of airport runways.

Whoa, hold it right there. 78,000 bridges, hmm?

Last week's bridge collapse in Minneapolis has sparked a larger look at our nation's deteriorating infrastructure. It has been said that a repair of every bridge in the U.S. might cost around $188 billion.

Given the gravity of this situation, what would be wrong with a newly reconstituted WPA to repair our nation's deteriorating transportation infrastructure?

I know that funding and labor would be issues that would need to be dealt with.

Seems to me that at least some seed funding could come from temporary levies for truckers. It is their weighty machines that have gotten the bridges where they are.

And for motorists, what about a national infrastructure tax similar to the recently departed but century-old phone excise taxes? Maybe $1 a year for every 100 lbs your vehicle weighs, and/or a modest surcharge on the price of a new vehicle over a certain weight?

Labor, yes, labor. Thanks to blue and white collar layoffs, there have to be hundreds of thousands of unemployed but skilled labor used to working with their hands, and retrainable for bridge construction and other infrastructure work. White-collar computing, office management, and related talent could be brought in as well. Non-violent prisoners could join these crews and acquire a skill and self-esteem by fulfilling a need.

So how about it- a new WPA to rebuild our nation's infrastructure?