By Thomas M. McGee
Infrastructure isn’t partisan. It’s personal. No matter where you live, your age, your education, if you drive, take the bus or ride a bicycle, infrastructure has a profound impact on your daily life. We all have to get around. We all need lights to come on and water to come out of the tap. For years, near-unanimous, bipartisan support for infrastructure investment has been steadily increasing, and leaders and voters in state houses and cities have been rolling up their sleeves, making tough but important choices, and rebuilding and modernizing transportation, water, and energy systems.
But our infrastructure doesn’t exist in isolation. Infrastructure – literally – unites the United States of America. No state, city, or county can alone tackle the enormous and growing backlog of projects of regional and national importance, and Americans get it: more than 79 percent of voters think it is extremely important for government to invest in infrastructure. We need federal leadership, we need a national vision, and we need a plan to pay for it.
Too much of our nation’s infrastructure is under maintained, too old, and over capacity. Every four years the American Society of Civil Engineers issues its Infrastructure Report Card. The near-failing grades given to our nation’s aviation systems, roads, drinking and wastewater systems and ports, should spur national leaders to action.
We are being pennywise and pound foolish when we put a net under a bridge to catch falling concrete instead of rebuilding the aging bridge in the first place. That’s the alarm bell – but what about the opportunity? Smart investments in transportation infrastructure not only create good-paying jobs in construction, but also expand access to jobs and affordable housing across cities and regions. Better transportation infrastructure shortens commutes, reduces health-threatening congestion, and increases both worker productivity and family and leisure time.
Affordable, reliable, clean water attracts new businesses from breweries to manufacturers. Investments in resilient infrastructure allow emergency responders to get to areas impacted by hurricanes, floods, fires and other disasters faster, helps communities recover faster, and, of course, it is more fiscally responsible to build once the right way instead of rebuilding repeatedly.
May 13-20, 2019 is the seventh annual Infrastructure Week – a national week of advocacy and education that brings together business, labor, and elected leaders to spotlight the need to revitalize, modernize, and invest in infrastructure. Many communities around the country are working hard to deliver projects that solve local problems.
In Lynn, we are taking action to invest in our infrastructure including the redesign of the Western Avenue corridor using state and federal funds, expanding the Northern Strand Community Path through Lynn which will connect us to neighboring communities as far as Everett and Somerville, and upgrading to LED streetlights across the city.
Additionally, construction has begun on three projects funded through the state’s MassWorks Program that will significantly improvement traffic flow and safety of all road uses: the Federal and Boston St. roundabout, the reconfiguration of Neptune Boulevard from Blossom St. to Wheeler and Pleasant Streets and the project on the Lynnway in conjunction with the development of the North Harbor site.
But such efforts are only a piece of the solution. For two centuries, the federal government was the catalyst for the infrastructure projects that transformed America and helped build the middle class. Federal policy and public and private investment built the transcontinental railroad, the Panama Canal, the interstate highway system, and huge dams and the electric grid. We need leadership with vision and courage to tackle big projects again. This country can accomplish the unimaginable when we put our mind to it. We have to reignite that spark of innovation and ambition, and demand bold leadership to do what we know can – and must – be done. It is time to reject short-sighted thinking, and finally start to build for tomorrow. I will continue to work with our state and federal partners to advocate for the infrastructure needs of our city!Thomas M. McGee is the Mayor of Lynn.