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Check the drama at the door

It’s high time to build new bridges, both figuratively and literally.

Residents of Northeastern Minnesota ought to understand full well the value of our transportation system as a regional hub. We benefit from a comprehensive system that includes international and regional airports, inter-continental freight rails, worldwide shipping courses and a heavy cargo-capable highway transport network. This heavily used and often taken for granted complexity is the critical infrastructure that supports our regional economy. It literally drives our economic development and diversity opportunities.

But no infrastructure will last forever. If we want to continue to grow our economy, or even to support our current industry portfolio, we have to assume the responsibilities of system maintenance. Our state and federal highway system is in dire need of upkeep and upgrades. Many of our more localized transportation systems are hanging on by a thread. Our airport runway is in immediate need of maintenance, not to mention the need for additional investment to fund a much-needed expansion. And our constant flow of shipping traffic is wholly dependent on the operation of just one lock in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. Small changes in policy or lack of new funding could throw any one of these critical systems into disarray.

Our infrastructure needs attention. Without renewed investments we will continue to struggle, and any failure within the system could lead to catastrophic market effects our region can hardly afford. We must all work to secure federal investments and ongoing maintenance in our airports, waterways, highways and federal bridges. We must also work to ensure Minnesota is doing its part to ensure our continued competitiveness by adequately supporting the state’s transportation infrastructure. State highways, bridges and roads are at a critical point where lack of attention could have lasting and unaffordable impacts.

Whether we are talking about replacing the aging Blatnik Bridge, improving our Great Lakes waterway to support continued movement of Minnesota-made products, or expanding our international airport to enhance commercial and military air traffic, we must have the political courage to make tough decisions that will support and expand our economy.

Federal and state governments have work to do. People are rightly concerned about their health care and how they are going to afford it. Folks are equally concerned about jobs in our region and what the future holds. We must all work together to find solutions. A system with winners and losers is not the Minnesota way. It is high time we work to build the metaphorical bridges across our region, and be responsible for our own futures. Health care, jobs and infrastructure: Let’s get it done and check the drama at the door.

Erik Simonson

Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, represents District 7 in the Minnesota Senate. He may be contacted at (651) 296-4188.