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The Hill: Congress needs to turn to local leaders to fix our infrastructure

By Marcia Hale
May 11, 2018 

Every morning, millions of Americans find themselves stuck in traffic and delayed on their morning commutes. As the reality slowly sinks in that they are going to be late for work, it is natural to wonder, who is to blame? The answer is simply our policymakers in Washington. For years, Congress has failed to make long overdue investments in our infrastructure. While Washington waits, Americans are paying the price. From the stalled subways that delay our commutes, to the crumbling roads and bridges that put our families at risk, this crisis impacts everyone.

While members of Congress are refusing to act in Washington, the cost of their inaction is borne by working families across America. Our nation’s decaying infrastructure costs every American family $9 every day. The poor quality of our roads cost the average motorist $482 each year in auto repairs. Commuters waste 42 long hours and $1,200 in fuel per person as they wait in traffic. This is a crisis we cannot afford to ignore.

There is no question that by refusing to act, our leaders are failing us. However, as the start of the sixth annual Infrastructure Weekapproaches next week, it is equally as important to consider the local leaders who are stepping up to invest in infrastructure, showing that it is not only possible, but it works. Leaders from both sides of the aisle, including Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, Mayor John Suthers of Colorado Springs and Mayor Mike Duggan of Detroit, are filling the void in leadership that Congress has left behind.

Under Mayor Garcetti’s leadership, Los Angeles has become a national leader in public transportation. That is no accident. Mayor Garcetti championed ballot Measure M in 2016, proposing a permanent tax to fund transportation infrastructure projects across the city. Skeptics said it would never pass, but Mayor Garcetti went directly to his constituents and made a compelling case for the importance of secure and innovative infrastructure. The measure passed with overwhelming support and will generate an estimated $120 billion over the next 40 years, all of which will be used to invest in infrastructure.

One thousand miles away in Colorado Springs, Mayor Suthers is showing our national leaders the important role that infrastructure plays in the daily lives of citizens. Since his election, he has taken sustained action to deliver on the promise of fixing the crumbling roads and stormwater systems of Colorado Springs. In 2017 alone, Mayor Suthers proposed and passed three separate measures, making critical investments in water infrastructure and finally widening Interstate 25.

In Detroit, Mayor Duggan’s leadership in revitalizing the city has been crucial to success thus far. Most recently, he announced a proposal to invest $125 million in bond funds to revitalize Detroit’s neighborhood commercial corridors, as part of a larger $317 million plan to improve 300 miles of roads and thousands of damaged sidewalks.

Mayor Garcetti, Mayor Suthers and Mayor Duggan have shown leaders across our country that infrastructure investment is not a box to check, but a vital and ongoing responsibility that every elected official must uphold. The success of their projects shows our country that when leaders put forward bold ideas and present people with the facts, the public supports investments in infrastructure.

These are only three examples, but local leaders and private companies across America are making an impact. From the Purple Line in Maryland to the Calaveras Dam in California to the Gateway Program in the Northeast Corridor, ongoing infrastructure projects promise to have a positive impact on our lives. There are also important efforts that seek to ensure our safety, including positive train control on our railways and bridge reconstruction projects across the coasts. These projects are essential, but for our cities to be more secure, local leaders need federal direct dollars and plan for action.

America is facing a growing infrastructure crisis. It is the duty of our elected representatives at all levels of government to fix it. Congress must pass a comprehensive package with sufficient federal funding to address the nation’s tremendous infrastructure needs. There must also be a strong working relationship between states and federal government. The federal government must trust and challenge mayors and governors, on a regional basis, to understand what they need for their communities and to grant them the flexibility to carry out needed projects. Then, and only then, can we end the crisis and maybe start getting to work on time.

Marcia Hale is president of Building America’s Future, a national bipartisan coalition dedicated to infrastructure investment and reform. She served as an assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs at the White House during the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1997.