With Sarah Palin as cheerleader and activists in Revolutionary War-era garb, the Tea Party has stirred the imagination of the electorate. It has shaken up the humdrum two-party political landscape and excited many who are dissatisfied with the status quo.

A small-government activist at the foot of the Washington Monument.
Photo: Haley/Sip Via AP Images
A small-government activist at the foot of the Washington Monument.

No matter what your political affiliation, it’s hard to deny that the Tea Party has offered great political theater for the 2010 midterm election cycle.

But let’s forget about the drama for a moment and think about the Tea Party’s smaller-government mantra. It should be a big worry for anyone concerned about infrastructure.

And that worry is all the motivation you should need to do more than sit still as a passive audience in this final week of the midterm election season. We must educate whichever political party is in power about infrastructure.

This is especially true because we are now at a critical time for road, rail and transit systems. The next Congress likely will take up the long overdue reauthorization of the multiyear surface transportation bill, and billions of dollars will be at stake.

About 4% of interstate highways are in poor condition, and an additional 13% are in mediocre condition. More than 2,000 bridges on interstate highways are in need of an overhaul.

Infrastructure should be a priority, and yet we hear so little on this subject from the Tea Party candidates. Their silence on the subject is revealing.

They are against taxes and oppose stimulus funding, yet they have said little about what they would cut and how they would prioritize the country’s needs if their candidates make it to Congress and gain influence.

One thing is certain: There’s no cure for corrosion.

A neglected bridge is going to crumble the same way whether a Republican, Democrat or Tea Party candidate is crossing it. As Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett (R) recently said, “The infrastructure needs are real. We can argue about how to pay for it.”

This is the time to reach out to candidates and educate them about U.S. transportation infrastructure and the potential consequences of neglecting it. We must make it clear that the U.S. will suffer economically if highways and rails continue to fall into disrepair.

If we’re not engaging candidates on the issues, then we will end up watching the Tea Party do more than symbolically throw tea overboard--our public works are at risk. Or we can gain their support to rebuild America! ENR readers, take your positions!

This story was updated on Oct. 29, 2010.