Infrastructure bill may bridge more than just our state's rivers

  • Raja Krishnamoorthi

    Raja Krishnamoorthi

 
By U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi
Guest columnist
Updated 12/9/2021 9:17 AM

Last month, I was proud to stand with public officials from around the country as President Biden signed into law the largest investment in American infrastructure in generations. What may have been most unusual about the gathering is that it included both Democrats and Republicans -- a rare display of bipartisanship in hyper-partisan Washington, D.C.

Much has been reported on what the infrastructure bill holds for Chicago and Illinois -- billions of dollars to rebuild our roads and bridges, improve public transit, expand rail service and replace the lead pipes that carry drinking water and threaten the health of children and families. The bill also makes major investments in promoting clean energy and upgrading the electric grids necessary to efficiently bring solar, wind and other renewable power to homes and businesses.

 

These improvements are critical to our economic future. But it occurred to me after the Washington bill signing that this investment in our state's physical infrastructure may also help repair the divisions among the regions of Illinois.

I have a unique perspective on this. I was raised in Peoria, where my immigrant parents settled to pursue the American Dream. I was blessed with the benefits of growing up in a relatively small town where everyone knew their neighbors, attended good public schools and proudly celebrated the Fourth of July. Later, as a young lawyer, I took a job in Chicago, met and married my wife Priya and had the first of our three children. Eventually, as many young families do, we moved to the suburbs -- in our case, Schaumburg -- where we bought our first house and started building our lives.

What I've learned from those experiences is that Illinoisans are far more alike than different. No matter where they live, most people in our state want the same things: safety and security for their families, good schools for their kids, a healthy environment with green space and a decent home in which to live. Regardless of race, religion or background, the vast majority of our people share these very human concerns.

Over my lifetime, however, I've witnessed a growing divide among the people of our state and nation. And it's reflected in our politics. Rather than focusing on our common hopes and dreams, too many political leaders these days seek to divide us. Rather than appealing to "our better angels," as Lincoln described them, they promote derision and distrust.

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The infrastructure bill can help us bridge those divides because the projects it supports will benefit everyone. No region of our state is left out. The new roads that bring workers and visitors to Chicago will be mirrored by those that enable downstate farmers to bring their products to market more efficiently. The repaired bridges that span the Chicago River in our state's largest city will be echoed by those that cross the Illinois River in my hometown of Peoria, the ones that connect the Illinois Quad Cities to their Iowa counterparts across the Mississippi River, and those further downstream connecting Metro East to the St. Louis region.

Likewise, the bill's investments in renewable fuels will have benefits across our state, from workers in small industrial towns who can begin producing solar panels and wind turbines to the farmers and rural residents who can site them in their fields to urban and suburban dwellers who will benefit from lower energy prices and cleaner air.

Maybe most importantly, the infrastructure bill will make high-speed internet service accessible to every resident of Illinois. Currently, about 20 percent of Illinoisans lack access to this "information highway." Most of them live in rural areas or in disinvested neighborhoods in major cities. Expanding broadband service will enable these fellow Illinoisans to fully participate in our information-based economy, from accessing online education opportunities to finding new markets for their products and ideas.

I believe firmly that, as better infrastructure brings our communities closer together, it can help close the social divide that has infected our politics. When we can travel, do business and communicate more easily with each other, we can forge new and stronger ties among all the people of our state. And then, we'll rediscover that the differences among us are so much smaller than the hopes and dreams that we share.

• U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi is a Democrat from Schaumburg.

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