Building America’s Future is a bipartisan coalition of former and current local elected officials from around the country. Here, in the member spotlight, BAF is asking members to tell us why infrastructure investment is so important to their community.
Why is infrastructure so important to your community?
The City of Syracuse’s history is inextricably linked to infrastructure. Without the development of the Erie Canal, Syracuse would never have been able to host the large manufacturers that built our economy, or been home to the thousands of immigrants who helped start small businesses that have made our community thrive.
Are there local projects you’re particularly proud of?
One major local infrastructure project completed during my term was the Connective Corridor, a Complete Streets project that was designed to unite our Downtown Core with the University Hill neighborhood. Instead of just making standard infrastructure improvements, we used federal dollars to partner with Syracuse University to create a multi-modal, complete street project that included a new bus route, environmentally-friendly porous pavement, better sidewalks, and bike lanes. This is a twenty first century infrastructure project and is a model for what we can continue to do locally as well as for others across the nation.
What is the number one infrastructure-related issue facing the United States today?
New methods of financing infrastructure. Historically, the federal government has paid for 80% of projects, states have contributed 17%, and local governments have contributed 3%. In recent decades, you have seen that basic funding formula abandoned. We need more funding from the federal and state governments to make local infrastructure needs a priority. We also need to understand that their largess may be limited, so we need to explore creative alternative funding vehicles, such as infrastructure banks, where we can develop partnerships with the private sector to pay these costs.
What future transportation innovations are you excited about?
There are a number of new technologies which can help detect water main leaks before they become more serious issues. New sensor and valve technology might help us to detect these conditions and make more targeted system investments that minimize disruption to customers and maximize the impact of limited public resources. Technology like this could enable us to do preventative maintenance rather than the “whack-a-mole” style repairs we have to do after breaks happen.
What are your infrastructure/transportation goals during your term in office?
Syracuse has an aging water infrastructure that needs modernization. With over 550 miles of century-old pipes carrying millions of gallons of water through a gravity-fed system from our source, Skaneateles Lake, into every home and business in the City of Syracuse, we have an engineering marvel starting to show its age. Before leaving office, I would like to have a long term plan in place to smartly and aggressively upgrade this system.
In ten years, how would you like Syracuse to be different from what it is today?
The beautiful thing about Cities is they are constantly evolving. It would be my hope that in ten years, we no longer saw the Interstate 81 viaduct cutting like a scar through the center of our City and instead saw it replaced by an alternative that put an emphasis on community, not cars. I would also love to see our immigrant and refugee communities continue to grow and thrive and serve as an anchor for continued economic growth.
Do you have a favorite project in another city/state that you’d like to replicate in your city/state?
What I seek in projects, rather than seeing how Syracuse can be a carbon copy of other cities, is what other cities have done well and how can we take their success and make it uniquely Syracuse’s own. I think there’s a lot we can learn from other cities.
What is your message to policymakers in Washington about the importance of modernizing the nation’s infrastructure?
If we are going to have serious conversations about poverty, climate change, or job creation, we need to understand that infrastructure is key to that discussion. We need a massive national investment in our infrastructure: local water systems that can support emerging industries; roads and bridges that are safe, accessible, and adhere to Complete Streets principles; affordable, reliable, high-speed internet access to power the next generation of entrepreneurs. We also need to be mindful of the impact climate change has on our infrastructure, so whether it is the potential for Super Storms along our coast, hundred-year flood events happening every season, or more extreme winters, we need resilient infrastructure capable of handling these issues.
Is there a particular area of infrastructure that you are most concerned about? Roads? Aviation? Water? Technology? What is your proposal for addressing this challenge?
Infrastructure cannot be addressed in a piecemeal fashion; it’s all interconnected. If you spend a million dollars to fix a road but the water or sewer mains underneath break a few months later, you wind up having to dig it all up again. We need to have “dig once” policies that enable us to go underground, fix water and sewer mains, lay fiber optic cable for high-speed internet service, and then repair roads with Complete Streets principles and leave everything underground untouched for another generation. This is how we will maximize benefit to citizens and build an economy for the twenty first century.
What was the last movie you saw?
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. I’m a big fan of Katniss.
What are you currently reading?
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
What do you think of the new SU football head coach?
I’m excited to welcome Coach Babers into our community. He has a tough task ahead of him and I wish him the best of luck going forward.