The American Water Works Association (AWWA) estimates there are 6.1 million lead‐containing service lines present in community water systems (2016 study).

Drinking lead contaminated water can cause numerous problems: birth defects, development and learning disabilities among children, and cardiovascular and kidney diseases among adults. And these are just some of the problems. High profile contaminated water cases have been brought to national attention in Flint, MI and Newark, NJ, but this is not an isolated problem and needs greater national attention.

Overall, the general response has been to monitor and limit lead contamination in water, but significant reinvestment to replace these service lines is needed. Some states and localities have started to move forward on their own, but greater federal funding and oversight is needed. …

Often when thinking about infrastructure investment images of new bridges, train halls, or massive highway interchanges are envisioned. But an often-overlooked aspect for many are basic infrastructure assets or the kinds of things that keeps the lights on and in a state-of-good-repair.

State-of-good-repair is where a backlog of projects are concentrated for governments across the country. These needed investments are significant and likely exceed over a trillion dollars, but there is no easy way to quantify the cost.

The State of California has taken on the task of estimating its deferred maintenance. In the state’s 2019–2020 budget, the administration identified “a total state infrastructure deferred maintenance need of about $70 billion.” …

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Austin, TX. Photo by Megan Markham on Unsplash

Transit measures were on the ballot across the country this Election Day and varied from approving new capital campaigns to renewing funding sources. Overall, it was a positive night with a notable defeat in Portland, OR that setback a major light rail extension project in a growing and congested part of the metro area.

Hopefully, Portland can find another path forward. Continued investment in light-rail promotes economic growth, creates a valuable public asset, and connects people to new opportunities. Everyone benefits with more connections between our cities, towns, and institutions.

Here is an overview of some notable victories and defeats so…

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Photo by Ramapasha Laksono on Unsplash

One of the greatest transit planning tragedies in the U.S. was the demise of its streetcar system found across the country in the early 20th century. An article in Vox discusses its downfall and panned it well:

The real problem was that once cars appeared on the road, they could drive on streetcar tracks — and the streetcars could no longer operate efficiently.

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1920 map of the Connecticut Company trolley system and connecting lines. Source: Wikipedia

There were other policies at play that led to their downfall, including maintenance and fare contracts, but something more subvert and indirect is to blame: inequitable government policies that subsidized car travel more than transit.

Unfortunately, such policies continue to this day: just look at New York City, millions of on-street parking spaces, and more than 95% of them free. …

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Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal. Photo by Matt Nelson on Unsplash

Improving rail service could transform parts of the country and turn local economies into regional ones. More investment could transform the Northeast, provide better connections between Pittsburgh and Chicago, and alleviate some of the burden on the U.S. air transportation network. But let’s look specifically at the northeast and improving rail.

Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) connects Washington, DC to Boston and is the U.S.’s most heavily traveled rail line. It also shares the tracks with commuter rail, has to comply with different state and local laws, and traverse through some of the oldest and narrowest passageways in the country. …

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Photo by Irina Iriser from Pexels

I have watched, like many, numerous weeks devoted to infrastructure go by without any meaningful action from Washington. As the New York Times put it: “Infrastructure Week” is less a date on the calendar than it is a “Groundhog Day”-style fever dream doomed to be repeated.

The lack of investment in the decaying foundation of the United States spreads throughout all areas of the country. Eroding lead pipes contaminates drinking water, bridges and tunnels carrying millions of commuters are at risk of collapse, and past planning decisions have been detrimental to economic growth and social equity. …


Timothy Little

State and Local Government Finance and Budgeting, @PewStates alum. Independently discussing policy and what matters in public finance. Opinions are my own.

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