3 Reasons Why Infrastructure Needed to Be Addressed in the GOP Debate

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Last night, Republican presidential hopefuls again stood before the nation vying to be their party’s nominee. One issue was sorely missing from the debate.

16837601306_92fbdc7017_kA view of the podium bearing the presidential seal at NLC’s Congressional City Conference. (Jason Dixson)

For three hours last night at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., 11 Republican presidential hopefuls went back-and-forth on issues ranging from immigration, the nuclear deal with Iran and gay marriage. While the pundits engage in their own debate over who will next challenge frontrunner Donald Trump in the polls, issues of critical importance to the nation’s cities continue to go without the national spotlight they deserve.

Over the course of the election process, the National League of Cities (NLC) is helping city officials engage directly with the men and women hoping to be the next President as part of our Cities Lead 2016 campaign. We want to make sure the candidates know that city issues are America’s issues. One of those issues, infrastructure, hasn’t been mentioned once in the two debates. Here are three reasons why that’s a problem:

1. The Sad State of American Infrastructure is Becoming a Public Safety Issue

Many bridges and structures throughout the country, such as this damaged overpass in Pennsylvania, are in desperate need of repair. (Getty Images)

One in nine of our nation’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient; 240,000 water main breaks happen each year; the number of deficient dams is estimated at more than 4,000 — these stats are just a snapshot of the poor state of America’s infrastructure. On a recent trip to Concord, N.H., as part of our Cities Lead 2016 campaign, we heard directly from local officials on the precarious conditions poor infrastructure has created for the community.

In this city of over 40,000, local officials recently had to close a bridge on which it was no longer deemed safe for fire trucks to travel. The difficult decision to close the bridge has forced first responders to go on a detour through two cities, causing delays in response times. Due to the lack of adequate funding for infrastructure, local officials across the country are making difficult decisions like those made in Concord that impact the safety and well-being of residents — when they shouldn’t have to do so. The next President must tackle the unacceptable state of our nation’s critical infrastructure.

2. Climate Change is Exacerbating Existing Infrastructure Challenges

ThinkstockPhotos-525078077This flooded underpass in New York City illustrates the need for infrastructure improvements that reflect an awareness of the negative effects of climate change. (Getty Images) 

Adding to the concern about aging infrastructure is the impact of extreme weather events. Heat waves, droughts, heavy downpours, floods and hurricanes are straining existing infrastructure challenges, and introducing new ones. With climate change and higher temperatures, extreme weather storms are arriving with greater frequency and intensity. Cities like Dubuque, Iowa, face chronic and severe flooding as a result and are adopting solutions to managing an increasing amount of stormwater runoff.

Extreme weather events, sea level rise, shifting precipitation patterns and temperature variability — all intensified by climate change — have significant implications for water quality and availability, roads, rail and airports, energy infrastructure and our cities’ building stock. These trends have real, everyday consequences for local governments, which are on the front lines when it comes to mitigation and adaptation efforts and making sure their community is resilient. We ask that the candidates give climate change, and the impact it has on local infrastructure, the attention it deserves.

3. The World Has Changed. Our Infrastructure Must Too.

As greater numbers of city residents access data using mobile phones, more cities are finding that apps are an ideal way to share public transport information. (Getty Images)

Together with a series of rapid technological advancements, recent demographic trends are changing the nature of transportation and mobility in cities. Over the last several years, Americans of all demographic groups have embraced new modes of transportation. Active transportation has seen a significant surge — from 2000-2012, the number of people who primarily bike to work increased 60 percent nationwide.

Better technology is also creating greater demand for public transit. There are currently 99 transit expansion projects and 23 major system renovations underway throughout the country, in addition to almost 100 other projects in the pipeline at some stage of the planning, finance and review process. In the very near future even our roads will need to adapt to new technologies, including support for self-driving cars.

We must reexamine how federal infrastructure dollars are supporting 21st century trends. Since 1992, roughly 80 percent of all federal transportation funding has been reserved for the highway system, at the expense of alternative modes. Cities ask that the candidates discuss their vision for the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 8.58.14 AMAbout the author: Tim Mudd is the Senior Associate for Strategic Communications at the National League of Cities. Contact Tim at mudd@nlc.org.