While Congress Dallies, Cities Lead on Infrastructure

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By Karen Freeman-Wilson,

Mayor, Gary, Indiana

May 21, 2018

Making sure my city’s residents can rely on safe and dependable infrastructure is one of my most important jobs. But it’s not one that I—or the City of Gary—can do on our own. Because of restrictions on how cities raise and spend money for infrastructure projects, we need a robust partnership with the federal government. Absent such a partnership, infrastructure deteriorates over time, despite efforts by cities to fill in the gaps. Unfortunately, the federal government has not been this kind of strong partner for a long time, as evidenced by the sad state of infrastructure in our nation. It’s time for that to change—it’s time for Congress to partner with cities to rebuild our country.

Like just about every other city in the United States, Gary is both making progress and losing ground when it comes to infrastructure. In some areas, we have been able to make positive changes. But there is still so much work to do—from developing more and better transit, to improving our water system, to expanding high-speed Internet access. Gary’s infrastructure needs are why I participated in National Infrastructure Week last week, joining thousands of local leaders and citizens to advocate for Congress to work with cities to fix our nation’s outdated and often dangerous infrastructure.

Just about every local leader who took part in National Infrastructure Week had the same message for Congress: we know what we need to do, we’re ready to get to work, but we need your help. In total, it is estimated that our country needs at least $2 trillion in infrastructure investment to clear the logjam of critical projects that have accumulated over decades of neglect and join many of our global peers who have invested in building 21st Century infrastructure. But Congress plans a paltry $20 billion in funding.

Instead, Congress should work with cities to provide resources for the broad, far-sighted plans places like Gary are already pursuing to shore up our current infrastructure and develop the new projects that will serve our citizens for the next century. Around the nation, cities are planning for and developing tomorrow’s infrastructure: sustainable, intermodal, and interconnected; using technology to improve safety, services, and quality of life; and helping our workforces develop skills that will be critical for success in a fast-changing economy.

We know local-federal partnerships can work. In March 2018, the City of Gary received a $3 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant for demolition of abandoned buildings. Over the course of a six-year period, through a combined funding effort by local, state, and federal agencies and public-private partnerships, we were able to demolish hundreds of abandoned structures to improve safety and help revitalize our city. This underscores the power of collaboration to make a city a better place to live, work, and raise a family.  Additionally, we just completed the rehabilitation of the main runway at the Gary/Chicago Regional Airport with local dollars after extending the runway with federal dollars.

Infrastructure isn’t a partisan issue. Whichever side of the aisle we are on, we all agree we need things like safe roads, potable water, reliable transit, better airports, and strong connectivity. Our nation’s cities—and our nation as a whole—cannot wait any longer. Lives and livelihoods are on the line. As both the Mayor of Gary and as the First Vice President of the National League of Cities, I call on Congress to get back to the business of rebuilding America by partnering with local governments to restore our infrastructure and build for a more promising and prosperous future.

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