Shakespeare almost certainly never wrote “fish or cut bait.” I don’t even know if he liked to fish. But he did write this in Act IV, Scene III of Julius Caesar.
We at the height are ready to decline.
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
Alright, so it’s a stretch. Circumstances are not as they were when Brutus and Cassius were chatting about how to proceed in their war with Octavian and Marc Anthony. We are certainly not atop a flood tide that we can take advantage of. But are we at a stage where the failure to take advantage of the tide we do have could condemn us to a poorer infrastructure – with all of the downside that goes with that – than we need, than we deserve and than we could have? The Bard’s point perhaps is simply that if you miss a big enough opportunity (in our case even if it is effectively disguised in the clothing of a sick economy, dwindling budgets and an industry fighting to stay healthy), you may not see its equal again for a long, long time.
Look at the numbers in our annual inventory of the state of America’s bridges (page 8). We are perhaps not as bad off as we might be considering our economy. But it’s not good. My impression, call it a guess if you will, an educated guess if you feel kindly, is that a survey of highway engineers instead of bridge engineers would show us something similar in the state of our roads.
Certainly the stories we are being told, and you can read some of them and some pithy excerpts from the thoughts of our surveyed bridge experts, show a frustration born of knowing what must be done, and what should done and what could be done, and having to reconcile those possibilities with what can be done given the funding available.
One bold move could be the trigger that releases a flood tide. We may be the only major industry in that position today. The delay in Congress’ delivering a new surface transportation bill comes down to a single monster issue: funding. But the ultimate cost of a continued delay will almost certainly far outstrip the cost of finding adequate funding. Members of Congress, you do not determine the tides, and you do not create jobs and develop transportation infrastructure – this industry does. What you are doing is leading this industry into the shallows and keeping it from doing all that it can.