In the Presidential Candidate Debates, a Missed Opportunity for Infrastructure

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Perhaps what’s most disappointing about this week’s events is the candidates’ failure to take hold of the growing chorus in our country that is talking about transportation as a ladder of opportunity.

(photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP)
(photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Monday’s Democratic presidential candidate town hall and Thursday’s Republican debate in Des Moines, Iowa – much like the debates that came before them – can hardly be counted as a win for cities across America that rely on our road, bridge, transit, air, water and port infrastructure as their economic lifeblood. America’s infrastructure has long been the envy of the world, and for cities, it is our economic competitive advantage. Yet, with only brief mentions of infrastructure and how to pay for it, the debates continue to be a missed opportunity for the presidential candidates.

But perhaps what’s most disappointing is the candidates’ failure to take hold of the growing chorus in our country that is talking about transportation as a ladder of opportunity – the idea that our transportation network can serve as a tool to uplift every member of our communities by connecting them to new opportunities for education, employment, services, and physical well-being. Inequities in safe, reliable access to transit, safe routes for children to walk or bicycle to and from school and parks each day, or for our businesses to have access to a truly diverse workforce too often impact low income communities and communities of color across our nation.

For too many Americans, our nation’s streets serve more as a painful symbol of injustice than they do a stage for exciting new technologies like self-driving cars and the shared economy. This campaign season should be an opportunity for candidates to highlight their biggest, most innovative ideas for tackling these problems. If we want to move our multi-trillion dollar economy and continue growing opportunities in our cities, we need permanent, long term solutions to backfill and sustain the trust funds that keep our roads and bridges in a state of good repair. We need transit systems that are safe, equitable, and reliable. And we need to repair and replace our hundred-year-old water infrastructure that is crumbling around us. America’s cities should, and do deserve better.

While we support the few proposals that have been put forward to make significant investments in our nation’s infrastructure, we urge the candidates to do more and go further. Let this be an opportunity to detail how you will continue to make our transportation infrastructure the envy of the world. Propose real solutions that won’t leave our cities once again guessing as to whether or not they can count on long-term funding every few months. And highlight the critical role transportation plays in connecting communities to opportunity.

Join NLC’s effort, Cities Lead 2016, to make sure that city issues are a top priority for 2016 presidential candidates. View a copy of our platform online and sign your name in support of cities everywhere!

About the author: Matthew Colvin is the Principal Associate for Infrastructure and Development on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. He leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on surface, air and marine transportation issues. Follow Matthew on Twitter at @MatthewAColvin.