A Way Forward for Local Infrastructure Investment

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is raising the bar on implementing solutions to his city’s infrastructure needs.  During a wide-ranging discussion in Washington, D.C. today, Mayor Emanuel ticked off the challenges he and other local leaders face in cities and towns across America – congested highways, obsolete water and sewer systems, low capacity telecommunications networks and overextended public transit.

There is abundant evidence that points to the need for significant infrastructure investments if the City of Chicago is to compete as a world class city.  By way of example, a March 2012 report from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) cited the city’s strengths in the areas of higher education, arts and culture, global accessibility (O’Hare and Midway), public transit, city parks, high-end job growth and overall quality of life.  However, the same report articulates elements of weaknesses including road congestion and a generalized underinvestment in the extensive public transit system.

The local infrastructure trust that Mayor Emanuel has put forward is an aggressive attempt to implement strategic infrastructure improvements using more private sector financing.  The initiative is the latest manifestation of local government leaders taking infrastructure financing into their own hands in the absence of major support from Congress and from state capitals.

During his Washington briefing, Mayor Emanuel indicated that he expects to see the trust garner capital from a variety of sources including union pension funds, private investors and philanthropies.  His priorities in Chicago include replacing old public transit tracks, rolling stock and stations, complete upgrades to water and sewer pipes, and street improvements that will coincide with laying of fiber optic telecommunications cables.

“The infrastructure trust is for transformative investments,” said Mayor Emanuel, “not for basic upkeep and maintenance.”