Aging Infrastructure Stalls Greatness

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Local governments need a federal commitment and partner to improve our water, transportation and broadband systems. America cannot continue to be great without world-class infrastructure.

This is a guest post by Mayor Sal Panto, Jr.

The nation’s local leaders know that our nation’s infrastructure has never been a partisan issue. Today, with ailing infrastructure and a failing score from the American Society of Civil Engineers, there has never been a more important time for a bipartisan federal investment in our nation’s water, transportation and broadband infrastructure systems.

This investment would support our nation’s military, is critical to the defense of our country, will make our country competitive in the global economy, will increase economic development, and will create middle-class jobs in our communities.

Our nation’s infrastructure is woefully underfunded and in a state of disrepair. Americans are reminded of this everyday as trains derail, bridges fall, and water mains break. Now is the time for leadership at the federal level. Federal leaders need to put politics aside — like we do at the local level — and serve the needs of our citizens and communities.

Cities are the bedrock of our national economy and own an incredible amount of the country’s infrastructure. We as local leaders need to demand a strong federal partner and greater direct investment in our cities. Our communities and economic competitiveness as a nation depend on it.

The city of Easton, Pennsylvania, has been a hub of travel, trade and industry. Our proximity to three waterways, including the Delaware River, fueled our growth and development for decades as a former industrial center. Although we’re a small community of 29,000, we are currently experiencing the first population increase in five decades. This is great news for economic development, but it also places stress on our aging infrastructure.

With little money coming from Washington, local governments fund over 95 percent of our nation’s water infrastructure projects, including investing over $115 billion in 2014 alone, according to the U.S. Census Department.

Like most cities, our biggest infrastructure issue is our underground distribution system. In Easton, we have repaired the two city-owned bridges, an investment of more than $2.8 million, and we are about to launch a green infrastructure program under our Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Phase II permit to address stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows. This process will upgrade part of an underground system that is more than a century old.

The city is evaluating green infrastructure techniques, such as bioswales and rain gardens, as well as pervious surfaces on our basketball courts and playgrounds to reduce runoff and allow for more ground absorption of water. The MS4 program is a huge undertaking for a city of our size, but it will minimize the impact of future heavy rainfall events, ultimately saving taxpayer dollars and protecting our vital waterways.

The city of Easton and the Easton Suburban Water Authority are also in the process of undertaking a large modernization and expansion of our drinking water treatment plant to improve water quality, meet growing demand, and comply with new federal drinking water standards. The Water Authority is investing in a $19 million plan to replace approximately eight miles of distribution piping to reduce costly leaks. Replacing this underground infrastructure comes with a daunting price tag, but just because our residents can’t see underground infrastructure doesn’t mean they don’t count on us as local leaders to guarantee these services.

The urbanization of cities continues to grow as more people look to our urban cores as great places to live and work. The good news, of course, is that we have an opportunity create sustainable jobs for many Americans and make our communities stronger and more resilient in the process.

Our nation is at a crossroads. Local governments need a federal commitment and partner to improve our water, transportation and broadband systems. America cannot continue to be great without world-class infrastructure. Let us use Infrastructure Week to urge our federal leaders to make infrastructure investment in cities a priority.

This blog is part of a series celebrating Infrastructure Week 2017. For more information about NLC’s role in this year’s coalition, visit nlc.org/InfrastructureWeek. Join NLC and Mayor Panto at the “Resilient Water Management: Strengthening Communities and Growing Economies,” on Tuesday, May 16 at 2:00 p.m. EDT live from the NLC Facebook page.

Featured image from Getty Images.

About the author: Sal Panto, Jr., is the mayor of Easton, Pennsylvania. He currently serves as chair of the NLC Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.