TODAY IN AMERICA: As Washington Bickers, Bridges Stay Out—Because FEMA Has No Money To Fix Them

West Cornwall Bridge OutClick for the photo-essay >

Photo: Business Insider

Last week, our dysfunctional government started playing another game of political chicken, this time over funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).With no new funding, FEMA will run out of money next week. Democrats want to give FEMA more money to keep paying for disaster relief–regardless of the impact on the deficit. Republicans only want to give FEMA more money if it comes from spending cuts somewhere else.

In the grand scheme, the amount of money at stake is peanuts. But as with the debt-ceiling debate in August, both sides are so dug in that they seem ready to shut the government down rather than give in.

And the argument would just be another ridiculous Washington clown show–if not for the fact that the money FEMA is running out of actually needs to be used to fix stuff that is broken.

Like bridges.

Last month, flood waters from Hurricane Irene washed out a small bridge in Cornwall, Connecticut. It wasn’t a big bridge–not like the covered bridge in Vermont that got swept away–but it was a bridge that connects Lower River Road to the main drag. And because Lower River Road is a dead-end, all the houses on it have been cut off.

Fixing this bridge is the sort of “shovel ready” project that detractors of government spending always complain we don’t have enough of. Fixing it would employ a few folks for a few days, pumping some money into the local economy. It would send some business to nearby restaurants and stores. And, most importantly, it would make the infrastructure of the State of Connecticut in the United States of America look less like that of El Salvador.

But our elected representatives in Washington would rather preen in front of TV cameras than govern. So there’s no timetable for fixing the bridge on Lower River Road, or other Irene-related problems in the town of Cornwall, or the massive flood damage in the State of Vermont.

And if our “leaders” keep bickering for another few days, it won’t just be FEMA that shuts down–it will be the entire government.

Welcome to life in the new America.

Just west of this covered bridge off Route 7 in West Cornwall, Connecticut...

...Next to the Housatonic, a couple of hours from New York...

...Just past cabinet-maker Ian Ingersoll's...

... A bridge is out.

It's a little bridge, connecting Lower River Road to Route 128. But it has a big hole in it.

The hole appeared a month ago, when flood-water from Hurricane Irene washed the bridge's underpinnings away.

It's not a huge deal or anything--no different than lots of other busted infrastructure all over the country.

But, of course, it is America--the new America--in which the infrastructure's crumbling, the government is dysfunctional, and the economy blows.

Cornwall First Selectman Gordon Ridgway says the bridge will be fixed when the government stops bickering and FEMA gets more money--whenever that is.

Cornwall's larger problems, by the way, also mirror those of the country at large. The town's population is shrinking, and the local economy's not exactly humming along. After kids grow up here, they often move away, because there's just not much to do in town.

First Selectman Ridgway says there's a plan afoot to recondition the railroad line that runs through the centre of town. It runs from Danbury, CT to Pittsfield, MA, and it used to be a passenger line...

Restoring the railroad would cost about $200 million, Ridgway says, and it might help revitalize some of the towns it run through. It would also enable people to drive less, which doesn't seem like a bad thing, given our foreign oil addiction and gas at $4 a gallon.

But that's the future. For now, the bridge is still out. And FEMA has no money to fix it. And the children in Washington are still arguing.

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