In next year’s budget, President Barack Obama is asking for nearly $500 billion to fix up the country’s transportation infrastructure. But some cities are starting to spend their own money on roads and bridges, after putting it off during the Great Recession.
Take Atlanta. With crumbling sidewalks and potholed streets, that city needs work. Now it’s actually going to get some. Voters recently approved a quarter of a billion dollar infrastructure bond package.
A couple weeks ago, before the vote, about 40 people who wanted to add their concerns to the list of the city’s infrastructure needs gathered in a community center.
“We never got our final paving,” says Jerry Hicks. He lives in a subdivision that the developer didn’t finish building. “All of the manholes are above the ground. As a matter of fact, people have ruined their cars, because they hit those man covers.”
The bond package will raise money to repave streets, fix up fire stations and deal with things like the Courtland Street Bridge, in downtown, which needs to be replaced.
“The original structure is approximately 105 years old,” says Richard Mendoza, Atlanta’s commissioner of public works. “About 50 years ago it was reinforced with steel beams.”
Now there are signs posted on those beams, warning that pieces of the bridge might fall on passersby.
Mendoza says the city put off repairs during the great recession. Now, it’s racked up an infrastructure backlog of about a billion dollars. “I think what we’re doing is trying to stop the bleeding, if you will,” he says.
“Atlanta’s not alone in having a large pot of issues to tackle,” says urban planner Heather Alhadeff. Decrepit infrastructure is a problem for cities all over the country, she says. Like many other urban centers, Atlanta’s population doubles on weekdays. But half of those people aren’t paying to keep the place up, she says.
“You know if I came to your house and used your driveway and flushed your toilets and used your mail and your garbage, and everybody on the block did, you know your infrastructure would wear down faster,” Alhadeff says.
The bonds will only raise enough money to address a quarter of the city’s needs.
And exactly what will be fixed isn’t decided. Atlanta basically asked voters to support the idea of infrastructure repairs. The city council is supposed to finalize the project list soon.
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