A lesson in infrastructure from Flint

When you look at what has happened in Flint, Michigan, it is clear that on many levels, the government failed to uphold its contract with the people.

One of these failures was due to deteriorating infrastructure. The corrosive water from the Flint River caused lead from aging pipes to leach into the water supply, endangering children and families. Had infrastructure improvements been made preemptively, this tragedy may not have erupted on the sheer scale that it has.

The infrastructure our government provides—the bridges we drive on, the water systems we use, the rails we ride—is in desperate need of investment. But the cost ofimproving existing infrastructure in the United States is staggering, and it is growing.

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Every four years, America's civil engineers release a comprehensive assessment of our nation's major infrastructure systems. This assessment encompasses our water and environment, transportation, energy, and public facilities. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ last report card in 2013 gave America’s infrastructure in these categories a D+ and suggests that a $3.6 trillion investment is needed in the next five years just to bring our infrastructure systems up to adequate conditions.

This deficit simply is not being met, and the long-term investments needed cannot be made through current government programs.

If we continue to ignore our infrastructure, it will not be long before we see another failure. That will impact the lives of other men, women, and children who depend on us to keep them safe. But we can help prevent this by addressing this problem head on through the establishment of a national infrastructure bank.

I have long championed for a national infrastructure bank, and have introduced the National Infrastructure Development Act in every Congress since 1994.

The National Infrastructure Development Bank, modeled after the European Investment Bank and other development banks around the world, would leverage private dollars from institutional investors, such as pension funds, to supplement current funding. It would provide loans and loan guarantees to projects, and issue “Public Benefit Bonds” with proceeds to fund projects. Following a $25 billion authorization, the bank would be a self-supporting body.

The bank would finance highways, roads, bridges, transit systems, airports, high-speed rail and freight rail. It would also finance environmental projects, which would include drinking water and wastewater systems, dams, levees, and industrial site cleanup. Telecommunications projects, such a broadband, and energy transmission projects would also fall under its purview.

The bank would take into account the economic, environmental, and social benefits of a proposed project, and would prioritize projects that lead to job creation, stimulate economic growth, and contribute to public health.

The argument for an infrastructure bank spans beyond funding deserving projects. It would also be a crucial investment in our economy at home—growing good paying jobs that cannot be outsourced. The bank would develop the infrastructure U.S. businesses need to compete in a globalized economy.

Emergencies like the tragedy we are seeing in Flint are a stark reminder of what is at stake when it comes to investment in water projects. We cannot continue in the pattern of turning attention to critical infrastructure only when disaster strikes—we must make long-term, pro-growth investments to prevent further tragedies from ever occurring.

As we learn more about the breakdowns at every level in Flint, we must ask ourselves what we can do to ensure that no other community experiences this trauma. We must make it a priority to protect and maintain the resources we provide to our citizens, not ignore them as they fall into disrepair. The development of a national infrastructure bank would be crucial step in the right direction.

DeLauro has represented Connecticut’s 3rd Congressional District since 1991. She sits on the Appropriations Committee.

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