Two former Louisiana public officials believe one of the best ways to get the country back to work is to start tackling the nation's crumbling infrastructure. Tim Barfield and Charlie Melancon said improvements to roads, bridges, railroads and airports are a subject on which highly partisan political parties can agree.

President Donald Trump and Democratic Party leaders in Congress planned at one time to work together on infrastructure, but major political disagreements killed the idea. Barfield and Melancon, in commentaries in The Advocate, said the coronavirus epidemic should resurrect that possibility.

Barfield is a former secretary of the state Department of Revenue and president of CSRS Disaster Recovery in Baton Rouge. Melancon is a former Democratic member of Congress and former secretary of the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. He now works with a pro-infrastructure group.

Now is the perfect time, Barfield said, to introduce a large-scale, national infrastructure bill that will create hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect jobs. The federal government has several programs in place to address some of the needs, but he suggests tweaking them to address a wider spectrum of needs.

Barfield said some options are to utilize the Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program and the Department of Education's RESTART grant program that supports school districts and non-public schools with expenses related to the restart of schools after disasters. The U.S. Department of Transportation has $25 billion with which to help rebuild America.

Melancon said critical supplies are needed everywhere and the need for infrastructure has never been clearer in order to ensure that some semblance of life can be sustained.

The new "One Federal Decision" policy, Melancon said, would cut down construction wait times to two years or less, compared to many years under former infrastructure guidelines. He said Louisiana leaders and advocates have commended the national administration's proposed rule that emphasizes speedy infrastructure as a tide that lifts all boats in regional and national economies.

Those who are involved in infrastructure work say too much time has been involved on non-construction activities when more dollars should be spent on "turning dirt." Melancon said the Trump administration's infrastructure reforms that do that are bipartisan wins that don't come around often.

Barfield and Melancon have hit on an area where government can put millions of people who lost their jobs because of the coronavirus back to work.

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