By Mark S. Kuhar
LIUNA – the Laborers' International Union of North America – launched a multi-city media tour in U.S. House Speaker John Boehner's home state of Ohio, highlighting the safety crisis of America's roads and bridges and urging the Republican leader to swiftly adopt the U.S. Senate's bi-partisan Highway Bill.
A 15-ft. flatbed truck labeled “Emergency Bridge Repair Team” made the first of several stops at the Cincinnati's Brent Space Bridge – one of nearly 6,400 structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges in Ohio – where LIUNA members passed out information about the Highway Bill. The truck carried a giant roll of duct tape, symbolizing the current approach to the crisis facing America's aging bridges. Local labor, elected and business leaders also convened a press conference near Rep. Boehner's West Chester district office.
“If extremist Republicans in Congress have their way, we will need a whole fleet of trucks and a lot more duct tape,” said Randy McGuire, marketing director for the Ohio Laborers' District Council. “Instead of passing a bipartisan bill that will protect bridges and jobs like the Senate has done, the House continues on the path of partisan politics and is putting public safety at risk.”
The average U.S. bridge is now 45 years old, dangerously close to the average bridge lifespan of 50 years. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, one-in-four bridges nationwide are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Many are unsafe – and thousands of others create a chokehold on commerce because they are unable to carry commercial vehicles. Another 3,580 are closed altogether because they're unsafe for travel.
The week-long tour included additional stops in Dayton and Columbus, Ohio. “It is now up to Speaker Boehner to lead the House to follow suit,” said McGuire. “Bipartisanship is hard to come by these days, but the Senate came together to pass a good Highway Bill last week. Speaker Boehner can now lead his party to do the same in the House. So far, previous efforts to pass the bill in the House have been blocked by Republicans' efforts to slash investment and jobs.”
“Playing politics with our nation's crumbling roads, bridges and highways isn't just putting the chokehold on jobs – it's endangering lives,” said Butler County community leader Jodi Billerman, citing the fatal bridge collapse on I-35 in Minneapolis four years ago. “We don't want a terrible tragedy like that to happen here in Ohio – and if Congress can pass a Highway Bill to keep people safe and protect jobs at the same time, that just seems like a no-brainer to me.”
In addition to the “Emergency Bridge Repair Team” truck, LIUNA's multi-media campaign also includes a powerful radio ad – “Russian Roulette” – which warns motorists that the House is in effect forcing motorists to play Russian roulette every time they cross an unsafe bridge. The ad is saturating airwaves in Speaker Boehner's home district, including Dayton, as well as in Columbus and Cincinnati.
The effort also includes a direct mail piece, “How to Survive a Collapsed Bridge: Inspired by House Speaker John Boehner.” The tongue-in-cheek brochure draws from the U.S. Army Survival Guide on bridge collapses. The brochures were mailed to 90,000 activist Ohio voters.