- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2001

The District's roads, bridges, subway system, the rest of its infrastructure are in dire disrepair, Mayor Anthony A. Williams told a Senate panel yesterday, but its Democratic chairman said the city should not expect any more help from Congress.
"Even though we had manhole covers blowing way in the air, I think that you are going to get very little help this year in the appropriations process," said Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat and chairman of the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure committee, referring to the numerous exploding manholes in Georgetown.
The subcommittee hearing on the federal role in meeting infrastructure needs revealed that hundreds of cities across the country, including the District, are "living on borrowed time" because of aging roads, bridges, and pipes, according to Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, one of four mayors who testified yesterday.
But subcommittee member Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican, told Mr. Williams and the other mayors that Congress has not made the infrastructure of the nation's cities and suburbs a priority, even though it probably should be.
"It's no secret this nation has an aging infrastructure," Mr. Voinovich said, but "we're off on some other agenda matters that are a result of polling."
Mr. Williams emphasized that the needs of the District are great and, unlike other cities, the roads, bridges and plumbing of the city are not only old, but they are used by millions more people than in similar-sized cities. That's because of the tourists visiting the nation's capital and hundreds of thousands of federal workers who use city services.
"These users of the District's road infrastructure are largely from outside of the city," Mr. Williams said in his prepared statement. "In fact, approximately 70 percent of the cars on our roads each day are registered outside the District and because of the District's unique financial structure, these vehicles do not contribute significantly to the maintenance and capital costs they impose directly on our transportation infrastructure."
The District's system of roads is split into two camps, he said, with one getting sufficient funding for maintenance and renewal, and the other being neglected to the point where "50 percent of local roads remain in fair or poor condition."
Mr. Williams said about 450 miles of roads in the federal core of the city get funding at $250,000 per mile. But the "local city" gets only about $8,500 spent per mile.
He said the outlook for D.C. financing of Metro is not good, either, even though ridership on the 25-year-old subway system has surged in recent years.
"Metro ridership increases the cost the District [pays] each year in operating subsidy programs," Mr. Williams said, adding that the District pays 40 percent of both operating and capital costs for the Metro system.
In addition to the crumbling D.C. roads and heavily used subway system are the problems beneath the street. Mr. Reid and other senators pointed to those problems as reasons for more focus on rehabilitating the nation's infrastructure.
"The District, like other cities, also faces a brewing problem under its streets," Mr. Williams said. "Aging utility infrastructure, including power and gas lines [and fiber-optic cable lines] are putting strains on the city's ability to manage and control their rights-of-way."
The mayor also said the city's plumbing needs a $1 billion overhaul to address mounting water pollution problems.
Mr. Campbell and the mayors of New Orleans and Las Vegas joined Mr. Williams in calling for more federal intervention in helping cities many of which are over or near 100 years old — to replace sewer pipes, repave and rebuild streets, and create better ways to manage utility lines.
If Congress and the federal government do not help floundering cities with their infrastructure dilemmas, New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial said the economy could falter and eventually "the cost is going to be paid by everyone."
And to support the mayors' claims that they need federal help, the General Accounting Office released a report at the hearing saying that up to $83.4 billion a year will be needed from now until 2017 to construct new roads, and up to $16 billion a year to replace mass transit vehicles and facilities.
That money may be hard to find, the senators told the mayors, with Mr. Voinovich telling them they must prioritize the issues that require money so as to not overtax their constituents.

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