High stakes for communities, environment in infrastructure debates

Riders at a MARTA station in Atlanta, where various local governments have committed to investing in the system as one way to address the region’s traffic troubles. (© Ron Sherman)

It’s National Infrastructure Week. This is the sixth annual effort led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups to highlight the need for investment in essential infrastructure like bridges, roads, rail, transit, water and sewer systems, and broadband. Maintaining and improving America’s infrastructure is crucial to ensuring vibrant, thriving communities, and there is broad public support for infrastructure investment. However, progress on addressing the enormous backlog of needs has been mixed at best, and additional funding must not come at the expense of health and environmental protections.

At the federal level, after a year of hype, the infrastructure plan the Trump administration rolled out in February fell flat. Billed as a $1.5 trillion dollar package, it would only provide $200 million in federal funding, cut funding for cleaner transportation such as transit and rail, and gut provisions that help prevent ill-conceived, destructive projects. Last week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders conceded that infrastructure legislation was unlikely to move forward this year.

Some states and localities in the Southeast have made greater headway. In March, the Virginia General Assembly approved a historic funding package that will provide $154 million a year for the Metro transit system and have a major impact on advancing cleaner transportation and more sustainable development in Northern Virginia and the rest of the Washington, D.C. region. The same month, Georgia lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to approve the most significant legislation on statewide transit in more than two decades, which creates a new regional transit organization for metro Atlanta, approves $100 million in bonds this year, and authorizes counties to raise additional funds.  This legislation builds upon two successful transportation funding referenda in the City of Atlanta in 2016, including a measure that will generate an estimated $2.5 billion over 40 years for transit expansion and enhancements.

Our infrastructure needs are tremendous,” said Trip Pollard, Senior Attorney and Leader of our Land and Community Program. “We can make meaningful progress as long as we fund smart investments in clean water and cleaner transportation that can strengthen our communities, improve our health, and spur economic development without sacrificing environmental protection.”

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