Invest and bring infrastructure into the 21st Century
© Flickr user Reading Tom. CC BY 2.0

The infrastructure we depend on every day – from bridges and highways to utilities and broadband – is essential to our cities and the businesses that support them. Local elected officials and business leaders are working together to realize a new vision for more connected, accessible, and resilient infrastructure networks. We could be doing even more, but mixed signals and uncertain support from Congress are holding back many of these plans. The current two-year federal budget agreement is a step in the right direction. However more investment is needed to truly bring our infrastructure into the 21st Century.

Decades of deferred investment means communities are not effectively being served because of failing infrastructure. Population growth in our cities is compounding the wear and tear on aging infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates businesses will lose $7 trillion by 2025 if vital investment in infrastructure continues to go unaddressed. We can’t wait any longer to make the investments that are desperately needed to reinvigorate communities and build for the future.

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According to the Census Bureau, 10 of the 15 fastest growing cities are in the south. The Dallas-Fort Worth region is number two on the list. For Fort Worth, explosive population growth is driving the Fort Worth River Renaissance and Panther Island Project, a holistic approach to development that combines flood protection, urban revitalization, sustainable development, environmental clean-up, and infrastructure development.

Under the Panther Island Project, a once-neglected, industrial section of Fort Worth is being transformed into a lively riverfront neighborhood with vibrant green spaces and bustling mixed-use development. The publicly-funded components of the project will provide, among other things, the restoration of more than 800 acres of underutilized land and opportunities for over 10,000 housing units and 3 million square feet of commercial, retail and educational space.

Washington’s recent focus on infrastructure is a welcome development for cities like Fort Worth. Done correctly – through increased federal investment in American cities, incentives that spur the efficiency of Transit Oriented Development (TOD), expanded opportunities to leverage public funds through public-private partnerships (P3) and more flexibility and effectiveness in development – infrastructure investment will have a significant, far-reaching effect.

Too often, we overlook the many ways that local infrastructure systems support communities. We rely on the safety of roadways to be able to deliver fresh produce to the grocery store or make sure that special dress arrives at the bridal store downtown. When these foundational systems fail, the impact on our lives can be anywhere from inconvenient to catastrophic. On the other hand, the right infrastructure investments can deliver impactful results to the vitality of a community.

There are immediate steps Congress can take toward helping cities and community business leaders create a stronger America. Restoring tools like advance refunding bonds, which saved cities and local taxpayers millions; bringing back a longstanding exemption, known as Section 118, on public contributions to certain development and infrastructure projects; and supporting federal investment in our infrastructure through programs like CDBG, INFRA grants and New Starts are simple steps Washington can take toward building stronger communities and thriving economies.

We’re not going to fix all that ails America’s infrastructure overnight, however, it’s helpful to remember we need an all-of-the-above approach and we must work together to advance infrastructure investment priorities and planning through Congress. Infrastructure investment has the potential to be a tremendous catalyst to bring communities together, improve quality of life and provide jobs and economic growth for years to come.

Tom McGee is president and CEO of ICSC and Clarence E. Anthony is CEO and executive director of the National League of Cities.