Union campaign goads GOP leaders to pass highway bill

Sources: Laborers’ International Union of North America, Washington, D.C.; CP staff

A multi-media campaign from the union representing plant and jobsite workers across the transportation infrastructure value chain spotlights the public safety crisis crumbling bridges, deteriorating roads and struggling transit systems pose. The Laborers’ undertaking is especially targeted at voters positioned to prod U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) into supporting a long-term highway bill that protects investment in transportation systems.

The provocative campaign includes:

• Extensive radio spots in Ohio and Kentucky, the first, “London Bridge,” featuring children singing “America’s Bridges falling down.” A second, harder-hitting ad will air shortly after London Bridge debuts.

• Direct mail targeting voters in both states that takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to the transportation system crisis. Entitled “How to Survive a Collapsed Bridge,” the literature informs voters of bridge deficiencies in their state; includes information on bridge collapses from the U.S. Army’s survival guide; and urges voters to contact Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader McConnell.

• A giant roll of duct tape on a flatbed truck bearing a “Emergency Bridge Repair Team” sign. The vehicle will travel Ohio and Kentucky in advance of a March 31 deadline for Congress to extend the federal transportation construction program.

“The average age of bridges in the U.S. is 45 years, dangerously close to the designed lifespan of 50 years,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “With this campaign, we’re letting Congress know that while they’re busy playing politics, Americans are being forced to risk their safety every time they cross a deficient or obsolete bridge.”

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 24 percent of bridges, or 143,000 nationwide, have been deemed structurally deficient or functionally obsolete by Federal Highway Administration inspectors. About 3,580 bridges in the U.S. are closed to all traffic because they are unsafe; about 77,000 create a chokehold on commerce because they are obsolete and can’t handle the weight of commercial vehicles.

Meanwhile, LIUNA contends, 1.5 million construction workers—trained, ready and able to repair, upgrade or replace ailing or obsolete bridges—are jobless. “It is insulting to the public and to working people that Congress has politicized the traditionally bipartisan Highway Bill,” notes O’Sullivan. “Politicizing the Bill is bad for America.”

A bipartisan Senate bill calling for $109 billion in transportation investment over two years has been stalled by some Republicans’ politically-motivated amendments unrelated to transportation, he adds, noting how the House has been handcuffed by GOP “extremists” seeking to slash investment.

“This campaign is hard-hitting and provocative—and accurate,” said O’Sullivan. “Congress, in an election year, should be fearful of failing to act. At best, these aging bridges contribute to deteriorating lifestyle for Americans and are crippling our country’s ability to compete. At worst, as witnessed with the tragic I-35 Minneapolis bridge collapse, they are thousands of accidents waiting to happen.”

Campaign ad graphics and audio are posted at www.highwaybill.org.