EDITORIAL: Funding our future: Infrastructure investment can help economy recover

The COVID-19 pandemic has deal a blow to our economy, both locally and nationally, that will take years to overcome. Improving our infrastructure to increase trade and commerce can help our nation’s economic recover faster, and better.

Fortunately, both federal and state officials seem to recognize the value of such investment. And the seem to know that our improvement begins at the border.

The $2.3 trillion national infrastructure plan President Joe Biden announced Wednesday is ambitious, but if lawmakers don’t lard it up with unnecessary spending, it could pay off in economic growth that can benefit everybody.

The president plans to pay for the plan in part by spreading it out over 15 years and by raising the corporate income tax rate, which President Trump had lowered from 35% to 21%, back up to 28%.

Biden plans to spend heavily on roads and bridges, and also invest $100 billion to help make broadband internet service available nationwide. The inability of many students, especially in the Rio Grande Valley, to access virtual classrooms highlights the value of such an endeavor.

The president hopes that construction projects authorized by the plan will provide jobs for many Americans who might have been put out of work by the pandemic.

Although the initiative was formally announced this week, several elements already have been introduced in Congress, including a highway reauthorization bill that congressional leaders hope will be ready for a vote by Memorial Day. This should include continued improvements along the Interstate 69 corridor north of Harlingen to improve freight movement from Valley ports of entry. Other bills will fund improvements at our airports and water ports, which also can increase commerce.

Additionally, state officials also see the value of investing in South Texas infrastructure. The Texas Transportation Commission recently approved the Border Transportation Master Plan, a list of projects planned by the Valley’s Metropolitan Planning Organization and other officials for road and bridge improvements. State and federal agencies also have announced plans to increase and upgrade lanes at various border crossings, which should shorten wait times and further increase the flow of freight, as well as shoppers crossing over to patronize local businesses.

Further, Biden and congressional leaders have decided to allow earmark requests on infrastructure bills — a practice that was stopped several years ago because too many lawmakers were piling on unnecessary and costly pork-barrel projects. This change enables Valley lawmakers to engage with the MPO and city and county officials to identify specific projects that can be requested — as long as they don’t abuse the privilege. Projects such as a second causeway to South Padre Island, fuel pipelines or improvements that can help our ports receive and launch larger container ships could be added to the Valley’s wish list.

Certainly, not every wish will be granted; our needs exceed even the large investment that’s planned. However, the initiative can help local leaders develop plans for the future that can spark economic growth that will benefit the Valley now and for the future.