When infrastructure fails
Last week, Kansas experienced extreme winter storms that placed tremendous strain on the public services that we rely on every day, often without even thinking about it, like electricity and heat. Many folks went without power as temporary emergency outages were instituted because of the massive surge in electricity demand as the temperatures in Kansas and across the country plummeted.
And while we’ve seen extraordinary efforts from our electrical workers and those working to provide food, shelter, and other essential items in response to this difficult situation, the last few days exemplify why investing in our core state and local infrastructure is so critical.
Our roads, bridges, airports, waterways, water and wastewater systems, and even our electrical grid — the network through which we deliver electricity from producers to consumers — make up the backbone of the structures that help ensure folks have access to services. But we rarely notice public infrastructure until it doesn’t work, and by then, it’s usually too late.
There are more examples of this than any of us would like to remember. The 2007 I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis, Minn., that took 13 lives, the Flint, Mich., water crisis that lasted for nearly five years and cost potentially hundreds of lives, and most recently, the severe winter storm in Texas that has left millions without power and water all serve as stark and painful reminders that infrastructure is key to our safety.
What is happening in Texas is proof that a lack of regular and equitable investment in these systems can lead to critical failures when folks can least afford it. And the long-term effects of climate change, if left unchecked, can mean even more lives lost and billions more in property damage due to stronger storms and flooding.
In the year 2019, 1,280 bridges in Kansas were found to be structurally deficient. One of Kansas’ top five structurally deficient bridges, located in the greater Kansas City metro region, was built in 1976 and continues to generally have more than 21,000 crossings a day. Repairing our bridges is a matter of public safety, but it’s also an enormous opportunity.
We can use this moment as a catalyst for making desperately needed and long overdue investments in our nation’s infrastructure – investments that protect public safety, create new jobs here in the Kansas, grow our clean energy economy, and help us address the climate crisis.
As the vice chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, I’m pushing for Congress to pass a generational infrastructure package that will lay the groundwork for long-term economic recovery, as well as upgrade these vital networks. This is a chance to create millions of good-paying jobs while also making sure services are there when we need them the most — a requirement for a strong and modern economy.
Investments in smart grid technology allow for more efficient transmission of electricity, better distribution of energy from sustainable sources when necessary, and even more accurate forecasting of potential outages. They make our country more equipped to handle extreme weather events like we’ve experienced this week. But to do this, we must make these kinds of projects a priority every day — not just when they are on the brink of failing us.
President Biden has already indicated that investing in infrastructure is a top priority for his administration, and it’s an area that has largely received bipartisan support. If the past week has taught us anything, it’s that we have no time to waste.
Congresswoman Sharice Davids represents Kansas’ 3rd District and serves as the vice chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.