To build a 21st century America, start here

Jeff Robinson, Tony Dutzik

If you board a train in Baltimore, headed to Washington, D.C., you'll pass over the Thomas Viaduct, a stone bridge built 180 years ago. If you pour a glass of water in Chicago or Philadelphia, it might reach you through century-old pipes. Fly into Minneapolis or Albany, New York, and you will land at an airport built in the early days of aviation.

The infrastructure decisions Americans made in the past echo today. Infrastructure investment has connected the people and industries of our vast continent with rails and roads, and it has saved lives in our cities with modern water and sewer systems.

But short-sighted infrastructure decisions have also caused serious harm -- from the demolition of urban neighborhoods for freeways in the 1950s and 1960s to the flooding of irreplaceable natural gems such as Arizona's Glen Canyon during the dam-building years of the mid-20th century.

The stakes in the current infrastructure debate are high. But what matters most is not the size of any federal infrastructure package, nor how it is financed, nor even how many jobs it creates in the coming years. What matters most is building the infrastructure that will enable America to respond to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

Any infrastructure package that incentivizes the wrong investments or unwisely rolls back crucial environmental, public health and safety regulations in the name of short-term profits could waste taxpayer money or, even worse, hurt the nation's future health and well-being.

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