by Charles Kennick
Summer in Northeast Ohio is affectionately, at least to me, known as, “Construction Season”. Every year, the hordes of ODOT sanctioned orange barrels descend upon the highways and roads of Cleveland, Akron and the surrounding suburbs to repair roads and bridges battered by winter on the North Coast. However, these summer projects really serve as a Band-Aid solution to the blighted state of our aging, costly, and increasingly dangerous state of our public infrastructure.
Public works projects and public infrastructure doesn’t just encompass building an repairing roads and bridges, but also schools, hospitals, parks, airports, railroads, inland waterways, and dams, as well as water, sewer, and electricity systems. In short, public infrastructure vital to our ability to function in a modern society; its quality impacts all citizens’ safety, wellness, and ability to successful conduct business.
However, it is widely agreed upon, and often joked about, how bad our nation’s public infrastructure has become. In their quadrennial Infrastructure Report Card, the American Society of Civil Engineers graded the whole of the nations public infrastructure at an abysmally low “D+”, the same as it was in 2015. Our state alone faces a funding gap of $25 billion in drinking and wastewater refurbishment. To put this deficit into perspective, the state’s 2017-2018 fiscal year capital budgets spent $2.6 billion on all public work projects state wide. With this dizzyingly high difference in needed and available funding, the country desperately needs the one trillion dollar investment that Trump campaign and administration have continuously promised us is coming. But it’s not, and we cannot accept that.
Funding gaps like the one we have in Ohio are commonplace in many state and local government’s budgets nationwide. They can cause major health and safety issues like we saw in Flint, Michigan or Sebring, Ohio. They also can severely affect our GDP, employment, and overall hurt our economic productivity. Which will only hurt our ability to fund new projects even further in a vicious cycle of deterioration.
It is not only important to address shortfalls in the quality of our public infrastructure but also the way in which these projects are conducted. Simply, pressing our public officials to increase funding for capital projects is not enough. To solve the gargantuan problem that we face, we must also require environmentally sustainable, socially equitable, and economically inclusive projects. We must fight to keep our infrastructure truly public, and not forfeit these assets to private companies whose interest is in profit and not the common good.
I see it as an opportunity for our generation to tackle a problem that has been pushed upon us. It is irresponsible for us as a nation and as a generation of public leaders and administrators to let the underinvestment in our infrastructure stymie our productivity and endanger the lives of our fellow citizens. I look forward to calling my peers, at all ends of the political spectrum, to this challenge and opportunity to reshape our collective mindset on the value and benefit of investing in making our nation, state, and localities a place we are proud to call home.
Title photo source: http://thechronicleherald.ca/opinion/1195063-create-ibank-to-upgrade-crumbling-infrastructure