America's infrastructure is falling apart – but you don't need a senator and a member of Congress to tell you that.
If you've driven around or done some traveling lately, you probably had the exact same thought that we hear from our constituents all the time: our highways, bridges, airports, and public transportation are just not working right.
The same goes for our contaminated water supplies, our patchwork access to high-speed internet, and our crumbling schools.
We have to fix all of it – and here's how:
First, we need to get building, and finally clean up the state of disrepair that much of our infrastructure is in now.
Second, when we start rebuilding a community, we need to make sure those new jobs are actually going to the people living there.
And third, when that new project goes up, we need to make sure it's bringing the community together – not tearing it apart.
We're in an extraordinary moment right now in which Americans are demanding that we correct the injustices of the last century – especially government policies that hurt poor communities and communities of color. It turns out that even our infrastructure policies fall into that category.
Here's a glaring example: Highways. Highways are supposed to connect people. They're supposed to make it easier for neighbors to come together, for kids to get to school, for workers to get to their jobs. But that's not what happened when our country built them.
Instead, highways like I-81 in Syracuse, freeways like the 10 in Los Angeles, and so many more in between divide cities and neighborhoods in half. They closed local businesses. They blocked workers from new opportunities and better jobs, and the comfortable life that follows.
Because of those bad policies, in cities all over the country today, you see the same disturbing pattern: green spaces, grocery stores, and good jobs on one side of the overpass, and none of them on the other.
Of course, it's not just highways. It's our water systems, like the pipes in Flint. It's our public transit systems, which often pass right by neighborhoods that need them most. It's our high-speed internet, which still hasn't reached many communities all over the country.
This time, when we rebuild, we're going to do it better.
Instead of bulldozing through a neighborhood, we need to build that neighborhood up. Instead of passing right by local neighborhoods when the search goes out for workers on these major projects, we need to hire directly from those neighborhoods, so all those good jobs stay put. In other words, we need to build local, and we need to hire local.
That's why, this week, we were proud to introduce a groundbreaking new bill in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives called the Build Local, Hire Local Act. Our bill would do just that: it would make sure that we are building and repairing all of our communities – including the ones often left behind – and it would make sure that we are hiring from those same communities too.
This is the policy our country needs, not just to set ourselves up for success in this century, but to correct our mistakes from the last one.
If done right, this ambitious effort to rebuild our country can train a whole new generation of workers to build and maintain our infrastructure. It can raise wages, improve working conditions, and strengthen our unions. It can create manufacturing jobs across the country and expand opportunities for small and disadvantaged businesses.
Our legislation calls for new requirements to advance all of these priorities because any project funded by your taxpayer dollars should uphold the dignity and opportunity our workers deserve.
We are proud to be joined by a broad coalition that includes civil rights advocates, mayors, and labor leaders, all fighting for this legislation. So let's all come together and pass it. It's time to bring new life and new energy to our communities.
It's time to bring new opportunities and new chances to the people who live in them. We can do all of that. Let's rebuild the country, make it shine – and this time, lift up all people in the process.
Commentary by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-NY), who is currently running for president, and U.S. Rep Karen Bass (D-CA), who represents California's 37th district.
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