A decade for infrastructure: How   $1 trillion can rebuild America
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In a time when much of our nation is asking whether we can find space for any common ground, we are confident that we will. While there are legitimate (and often large) disagreements about healthcare, immigration and trade, we both believe that Americans can unite around an agenda that rebuilds and expands the nation's roads, rail system and airports.

As mayors of major cities, we both believe, however, that Americans can agree that now is the time to get to work rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. Not only do our crumbling roads, bridges, airports and ports need it, our future economic prosperity depends on it.

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Mayors across America know how this can work first-hand.

 

By example, the voters of Los Angeles County authorized a $40 billion transportation infrastructure plan in 2008 and a nation-leading $120 billion plan this past November, while in Oklahoma City three separate voter-approved multi-year infrastructure programs in the past two-decades have helped bring the city back from a recession in the early 1990’s.

We are only two examples of the billions of dollars in additional infrastructure investments that have recently been approved by local voters in many parts of our country.

But to bring our country’s infrastructure to a state of good repair and to support our economic competitiveness, we cannot do it alone.

Here are three recommendations on how the administration and Congress can partner with America’s cities to successfully execute a $1 trillion infrastructure plan:

1. Change how the federal government prioritizes the distribution of infrastructure dollars.

Cities who approach Washington with their own local matching funds for projects should be first in line. No matter how willing Congress is to appropriate new discretionary funds for infrastructure, we cannot expect federal money alone to build through our nation’s infrastructure backlog.

If the federal government says to local governments, “Show us that you have money at the table, that you do not rely on us,” President Trump can reach the $1 trillion we need. Creating new local revenue — usually through raising taxes or assuming debt  —  is a complex and politically difficult endeavor that can be made easier through incentives.

2. Modernize and expedite how projects are built.

To maximize the return on our federal and local infrastructure dollars, public-private partnerships must be utilized to complete projects ahead of schedule and under cost. These partnerships bring to bear innovative financing tools, such as low-interest loans and tax-credit bonds, and project management processes that simply are not found in government.

3. Build and maintain.

Capital projects should be built to last. We should incentivize local and state agencies to care about lifecycle costs and long term performance as much as they care about cutting ribbons.  

Past practices have more often than not provided money to build, but not to maintain, leaving us with a mountain of deferred maintenance that forms the bulk of the $1 trillion price tag confronting taxpayers. This backlog must be reduced and never allowed to amass again.

Let’s have rules in place to make sure local projects are built both quickly and with quality, and that when it comes to maintenance, we heed the adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Whether it’s the quality of life in our neighborhoods or our ability to compete in the global economy, rebuilding and improving our infrastructure are critical to our nation’s future.

Our ports and airports must be able to accommodate the most modern and largest ships and aircraft, and they must be able to move more cargo. Our road and rail systems must be able to move that cargo across our nation safely and efficiently, and take our growing population to work and back home every day, too.

As elected officials, we have an obligation to stand up for the values that our constituents hold dear. And we will, with strength and resolve. But we also believe that voters’ paychecks, daily commutes and quality of life for Republicans, Democrats and independents alike would benefit from a national infrastructure program.

Americans are united in our frustration with our leaders’ inability to invest in our communities. Let’s surprise them and make this the decade of America’s infrastructure.

Eric Garcetti is the mayor of Los Angeles and vice president of The National Conference of Democratic Mayors (NCDM). Mick Cornett is the mayor of Oklahoma City and the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.


The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.