Maryland Water Main Break Highlights Need For Infrastructure Spending In Federal Stimulus

A water main break in Maryland this morning trapped a dozen commuters in their cars and sent rescuers scrambling to pull motorists from frigid floodwaters. “I thought it might be a minor leak, then suddenly I stepped outside and, ‘My God!'” said one witness. “It looked literally like the Potomac River.” “Your first inclination is that’s crazy. That could never happen,” Fire Capt. Frank Doyle said. “You never expect to see something like this.”

But in fact, “officials have warned for years that the system is in need of repairs, saying many pipes are decades old and worn down by ground water and acidic soil. In 2007, the system reported a record 2,129 pipe breaks, which generally result in cut-offs in service and road flooding.”

In Feb. 2008, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission decided against imposing a new fee on water rates that would have funded the replacement of aging pipes. The Commission was concerned it would be unfair to low-income customers. The Commission’s now-retired General Manager, Andrew Brunhart, warned at the time:

Brunhart, a retired Navy engineer, told commissioners that, absent the infrastructure fee, he would recommend dropping the words “entrusted,” “reliable” and “clean” from the WSSC mission statement.

“In my view, the public will no longer be able to trust the system that delivers water to residents,” he said.

This incident underscores the vital need for including infrastructure funding in the upcoming economic stimulus bill. Maryland, like so many other states, is facing a budget crunch to deal with its much-needed repairs. Gov. Martin O’Malley has been urging President-elect Obama to make an early investment in infrastructure. “Not only would an infusion of funds help keep people employed and create new jobs,” O’Malley said, “it would allow us to deliver infrastructure improvements that will last beyond the immediate economic crisis and benefit generations to come.”

In an interview with Washington DC’s CBS affiliate WUSA9, Montgomery Country council member Roger Berliner stressed the point, saying the state is suffering an “epidemic” of infrastructure breakdowns. “We simply don’t have the money to take care of it,” he said. “We need help from the federal government.” Watch it:

While President Bush has stubbornly refused to address the need for immediate infrastructure investments, President-elect Obama has expressed his strong desire to make it a priority.