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Americans want dependable utilities

THE National Transportation Safety Board's

investigation off the gas pipeline explosion in Sissonville is barely under way, but West

Virginians know that gas line improvements are needed, and that they will be expensive.

Mountaineers also know that the state's highways need improvement - and that will take money.

The Tomblin administration estimates the cost at

$36.8 billion over the next 25 years.

Americans know that the nation needs another

$202.5 billion to bring its wastewater treatment systems into compliance with federal law, according to a 2008 report by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Consumers also know that the nation needs another $75 billion a year to bring the national electrical grid up to snuff.

"For about $262 billion a year, you can get the whole package, salvaging the electrical grid, repairing water and sewer systems, overhauling decrepit highways and bridges, updating rail systems and expanding overcrowded runways," Ashley Halsey III wrote in the Washington Post last spring.

Americans constructed an excellent system of infrastructure over the last century and a half. But going cheap on maintenance and raising the bar for safety and environmental standards have their price.

People will be digging deeper into their pockets to pay for gasoline and will write bigger checks to pay their monthly utility bills.

The fact is that the federal government went broke mainly through entitlements, which account for 62 percent of federal spending. Profligate spending on both essential and non-essential programs means less federal money will be spent on critical infrastructure.

But good luck finding the money at the state level. The money's not there either.

An automatic 1.3-cent increase in West Virginia's gasoline tax in January will generate only $18 million. Some people think - unrealistically - that the state should spend more than $1 billion a year for the next 25 years on highways just to bring the roads up to snuff.

Americans have had it easy for the past few decades as the nation enjoyed the conveniences provided by past investments in infrastructure. The time has come to re-invest.

That means paying more now to be able to keep the lights on, to keep the water flowing and to keep the trucks rolling on the highways.

That means rethinking priorities, and cutting spending elsewhere.


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