Cities have bold infrastructure plans: Where is Congress?

by Mayor Mark Stodola (mayor@littlerock.gov) 387 views 

Across the nation, our infrastructure is in a deep state of decay. The American Society of Civil Engineers has given America’s infrastructure a D+.

Local municipalities and their citizens have born the great weight of this expense. More than three-quarters of all transportation projects are paid for by cities and states, and 95% of all water infrastructure projects are paid for by municipalities alone. Cities need a strong federal partner to fix this problem — given funding restrictions and other factors, local efforts will never be enough.

In Little Rock, for example, we’ve pulled together $172 million to improve streets and drainage over a 10-year period, but that is a mere 12.7% of the roughly $1 billion needed. It’s time for Congress to work with local leaders to join us in building the innovative, forward-looking infrastructure we’ve planned that helps secure a safe and prosperous future for all Americans. It’s time for Congress to rebuild with us.

That’s why, for the sixth year in a row, local leaders like myself have raised this issue in Washington during national Infrastructure Week alongside so many others who have seen the underbelly of America’s infrastructure and know we must do better for our citizens.

There is no more time to waste.

Much of our nation’s infrastructure is disintegrating underneath us and approaching (if not past) its “sell by date.” Is it any safer to use a bridge or tunnel that should have been fixed or demolished a decade ago than it is to eat spoiled food? No. A minimum of $2 trillion is needed to restore our nation’s infrastructure. The funding agreement contained in the FY18 omnibus bill by Congress provides a mere $20 billion. Clearly, a new and better way forward is needed.

America’s cities of all sizes are ready to lead the way with bold and visionary plans for infrastructure that is intermodal, sustainable, and interconnected with federal networks. Congress and federal agencies can be our partner in these plans if they will commit that this is a priority. We are harnessing emerging technologies to build smart, data-driven cities that will drive the future of work. Congress should also be focusing their resources on skills development for the U.S. workforce that not only allows us to restore and build a world-class infrastructure system but also creates a new generation of skilled workers to drive economic growth and prosperity for the next century.

A great example of how city and federal governments can effectively partner to improve infrastructure — and lives — in local communities occurred here in Little Rock in 2015. The Little Rock Port Authority was granted a $6.1 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant to expand the facility, which will make for more voluminous and efficient interaction between river barges and rail. Not only will this expand commercial traffic on the Arkansas River — and the larger McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System — it will also reduce the number of freight trucks on regional highways and create a significant number of good jobs, helping to improve our economy.

There are many other ports around the nation that need similar or other infrastructure improvements. Yet, every year the federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) — which is funded by taxes on waterborne cargo and passengers — takes in far more funding than it allocates for projects. Currently, $9 billion is locked away in the HMTF. With the Water Resources Development Act renewal around the corner, Congress can and should release these funds so cities can improve and expand our freight logistics infrastructure. But this must be part of a much larger initiative to transform our nation’s infrastructure and workforce.

For decades, investing in our nation’s infrastructure has been one of the few issues where people and leaders of all political persuasions have been able to find common ground. As a mayor of a great city, and as the president of the National League of Cities, I’m joining with my fellow municipal leaders from around the nation to urge Congress to work across the aisle — and with city leaders — to prioritize and fund infrastructure that works for the future.

From roads and rail to broadband and waterways to bridges and water pipes, it’s time to build for the future, together.
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Editor’s note: Mark Stodola is the mayor of Little Rock, and president of the National League of Cities. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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