- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2019

U.S. city officials increasingly are trying to find their own ways to repair roads, build bridges, improve sewers and provide communications amid squabbling among federal officials over funding a $2 trillion infrastructure plan.

In the District of Columbia, the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority issued the nation’s first environmental impact bond to improve the city’s sewer system. Officials in Atlanta and San Antonio, Texas, meanwhile, created revolving loan funds for a range of energy efficiency projects.

In Kansas City, Missouri, officials resolved a budgetary shortfall to keep its streetcar running by implementing a one-cent sales tax, while corporations and banks have helped Detroit officials fix roughly 40% of the city’s burnout streetlights.

“Cities and states are not waiting for infrastructure funding from Washington,” said Joseph Kane of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. “They know the cavalry is not coming. Regardless of whether they are red or blue, large or small, cities and states known they cannot keep fixing things with duct tape and wire. They are trying to tackle it on their own.”

According to the National League of Cities, anxiety over funding at city halls is mounting. An analysis of 153 State of the City addresses delivered between January and April found that more than half the country’s mayors discussed infrastructure at length — double the number from four years ago.

Broad consensus exists among politicians, financiers and the general public that investing more in infrastructure benefits everyone, experts say.

But alarm bells continue to ring over inaction at the federal level, especially over the lack of a long-term plan.

The latest American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card, for instance, gave the U.S. a grade of D+ and estimated the country needs to spend about $4.5 trillion by 2025 on major improvements to roads, bridges, dams, airports, schools, among other projects.

Additionally, the most recent Congressional Budget Office analysis of national infrastructure data found that total public spending in real terms fell $9.9 billion from 2007 to 2017 — from $450.4 billion in 2007 to $440.5 billion in 2017.

“We are increasingly seeing more cities looking to state and federal partners for aid, and while mayors are hopeful, they admit it has been a long and difficult road,” the National League of Cities said.

Mr. Kane said that more local leaders are engaging in realistic discussions about the challenges.

“We are in an era of repair and replacement, which is very different from the 1950s or other eras when we have undertaken massive new projects,” he said.

Meanwhile, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) has noted localities have turned to the ballot box to fund infrastructure projects in recent years.

And voters are showing a willingness to tax themselves. In November, voters across the country approved the overwhelming majority of more than 300 transportation ballot measures, worth roughly $50 billion in investments, according to the Eno Center for Transportation.

Alison Black, ARTBA’s chief economist and vice president, noted that over the past decade “about 82 percent of these [infrastructure] measures have passed.”

“Every mayor across the region is probably doing a cartwheel about that money,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said this spring about Ohio’s new tax increases on gasoline and diesel, which voters approved last fall.

That statewide tax will boost Dayton’s share of state road and repair funds from $2.45 million to $6.4 million, according to estimates from the Dayton Daily News and the Ohio Department of Transportation.

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