May 17, 2016
It is scary to realize how complacent our country has become in accepting crumbling infrastructure as the norm. We’ve been told over and over that our bridges are crumbling, that our international competitors are investing more in high speed rail, modern airports, and bigger shipping ports while every few months, some kind of preventable catastrophic infrastructure event happens in America. Nothing seems to spur leaders into taking decisive action.
Infrastructure matters. It matters, in big ways and in small– to our country, our economy, our quality of life, our safety, and our communities. Roads, bridges, rails, ports, airports, pipes, the power grid, broadband… infrastructure matters to companies that manufacture and ship goods. It matters to our daily commutes and our summer vacations. Infrastructure determines if we can drink water straight from our taps and flush our toilets or do our laundry. It brings electricity in to our homes. Ultimately, infrastructure matters to every aspect of our daily lives.
That is why DLZ has teamed up with hundreds of other groups around the country to participate in Infrastructure Week 2016. We’re raising awareness about the need to invest in infrastructure, which is the backbone of our economy, locally and nationally.
Every year America fails to adequately invest in our infrastructure, the United States becomes less competitive, our economy grows more slowly, and families and businesses lose valuable time and money. The goods we manufacture cost more when they get stuck on congested highways, rerouted around structurally deficient bridges, and stranded at outdated ports. Continued reliance on World War II era technology and airports that lack sufficient capacity cause U.S. consumers to skip travel, costing the economy tens of billions of dollars each year.
Portions of the Cleveland Innerbelt in Ohio are an example of a project that has seen some improvements, but many more dollars are needed to complete the work. And, our failure to invest in our infrastructure ripples throughout the economy: for every $1 invested in infrastructure, nearly $2 in output is created – putting our friends and neighbors to work.
Decades of underfunding and deferred maintenance have pushed our country to the brink of a national infrastructure crisis. And we accept preventable tragedies as normal, when they should in fact be entirely unacceptable: fatal mass transit accidents, deadly, poisonous drinking water, sickening gas leaks, levee-breaking floods, deadly pipeline bursts, and rivers contaminated with raw sewage.
This is especially the case in our urban areas, which have aging infrastructure and limited funds available to fix the problems. The City of Cleveland, in January 2016, experienced a water main break on Chester Avenue and East 55th Street that caused havoc with commuting traffic and impacted local businesses. Just two weeks before, the City had to address another water main break on East 40th Street, closing both East 40th and several cross streets. America’s poorly-funded infrastructure and transportation systems can be more than just inconvenient; they can be harmful to our health and safety. Importantly, all of these tragedies are preventable with adequate investment – they are not merely unfortunate accidents we must endure.
Every dollar we invest in infrastructure is an investment in our neighborhoods, and our future. Because our roads are in poor condition and littered with potholes U.S. drivers pay more than $500 in avoidable vehicle repairs and operating costs each year. And, instead of wasting over 40 hours each year stuck in traffic jams, that time could be better spent. A local example of this is in Strongsville, Ohio which experiences large traffic backups on Royalton Road, leading up to the Interstate 71 interchange. The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the City are moving ahead with $1 million in upgrades to an interchange ramp and on the roadway approaches.
Americans deserve a 21st century transportation network; modern aviation systems, safe, clean, reliable water and wastewater service, broadband access in every community, and a freight network and ports that can keep pace in the global economy. To grow our economy, keep Americans safe and our communities strong, we need all levels of government and the private sector to work together to rebuild and repair our nation’s infrastructure.
During Infrastructure Week, groups are coming together to recognize progress and leadership at the federal, state, and local levels – and there is much to celebrate.
But our work is nowhere near complete. As we look to 2016 and beyond, closing our country’s trillion-dollar infrastructure investment gap demands a strong federal partner in funding large and transformative projects. We are going to need real collaboration between the public and private sectors to identify and implement innovative solutions. Leaders at all levels are going to need to finally wake up and commit to building a long-term, sustainable plan to invest in America’s infrastructure. There is too much at stake to fail at any of this. Infrastructure matters too much.
Vickie Wildeman, P.E., Vice President Transportation
Vickie serves as a Vice President in DLZ’s Cleveland office and manages the Transportation department in the state of Ohio. Her primary focus is providing statewide strategy and oversight of all transportation marketing, planning, and design efforts. She has a diverse background in the design and planning of transportation projects, ranging from complex railroad grade separations, task order contracts and bike trails, to roadway widenings. Read more