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The State of the Cities in 2012: Focus on Infrastructure Investment

April 2, 2012

This is the sixth in a seven-part series about mayors’ 2012 State of the City Speeches.

As the rest of America waits for the Federal Government to get its act together and pass a comprehensive transportation bill, cities across the country are recognizing the opportunities that continued infrastructure improvements are having in their cities.  Leslie Wollack (@lawollack), Program Director for Federal Relations at NLC, recently spoke about the importance of local control in infrastructure, stating “transportation keeps communities and goods moving, helps people get to their jobs, and is an integral part to what communities need to do and decisions that need to be made.”  Our analysis of state of the city addresses shows that mayors are hearing that message loud and clear, and are doing what they can at the local level.

Roadway improvements are the obvious first place you think when the topic of transportation infrastructure is brought up.  Cities are of course making the necessary improvements there, but they are focusing their efforts on the bigger picture as well.  Light rail is a transportation option that a number of communities are focusing on.  Oklahoma City is starting construction this year to bring street cars back to the city by connecting the downtown area to the suburbs, while Pasadena is investing $735 million in extending their Gold Line after seeing a record number of riders.  The city of Baltimore is making the effort to preserve its position as a bustling port.  Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said “We are preparing the port for growth by reinvesting in our roads and bridges that support freight movement.”

For cities, transportation is not simply about the movement of goods and people.  Quality transportation infrastructure is vital to the health and happiness of a community.  In Eugene, OR Mayor Kitty Piercy spoke about the importance of updating transportation and land use plans to match the overarching goals of the city. Those goals include, “accessible and attractive transportation choices that reduce carbon emissions, set us on the path to the future, and continue to keep our road infrastructure safe and efficient for all modes to move people and goods.”  In Pasadena, Mayor Bill Bogaard has set similar goals for his city.  The land use and mobility elements of the general plan are being updated to “reflect community priorities such as sustainability, historic preservation, urban design and public participation.”

Infrastructure man at Delaware rest stop on I-95.

Let’s not pretend that infrastructure improvements aren’t a powerful economic driver as well.  The time to improve infrastructure is now, with cheap goods and services.  The city of Washington, DC, has leveraged $2.1 billion of investment into 3,000 construction jobs, and anticipates 6,000 permanent jobs upon the completion of fourteen major projects.  Mick Cornett, Mayor of Oklahoma City, knows that even the sight of construction can have lasting effects.  “When the dirt is flying, people realize that their local businesses and their governments are investing in their future. There may be no better way to visually fuel consumer confidence.”  Most recently, Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel announced the Building A New Chicago campaign, which will invest $7 billion over three years in infrastructure improvements, and will create 30,000 new jobs.

At the end of the day, local leaders know that their jobs are to create communities that people want to live and work in.  The ability to get to and from work, drop your children off at school, and get groceries home from the supermarket are everyday realities.  Transportation infrastructure needs to fill these basic needs, but we are seeing local leaders who aren’t satisfied doing just the basics.  Leaders are investing in the future, trying to distinguish their communities as places people want to live and work.  As the rest of this series on State of the Cities has shown so far, local leaders are stepping up to the plate and swinging for the fences.

Read about this project in more detail in The State of the Cities in 2012 on Citiesspeak.org. Don’t forget to check back over the next several days for more discussion on the State of the Cities in 2012.

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