State and local governments face a crisis when it comes to meeting the basic utility and transportation needs of a nation that now sees bridges crumbling, water systems failing and highways pockmarked with potholes. And given these lean economic and budget times, government officials shouldn’t expect an influx of cash any time soon to deal with these problems.
This crumbling infrastructure is a serious problem. Aging roads, bridges and schools present a public safety hazard. Inadequate water supplies pose real obstacles to the health and economic well-being of many communities.
It’s time for public officials to begin serious planning and prioritizing for the future. Failure to do so will leave the next generation of Americans without the schools, roads and public utilities it will need to compete in the global economy.
Elected officials must do a better job of deciding which projects should go to the top of the list and how they will be paid for. And politicians have to do a better job of making the case for these infrastructure improvements to taxpayers who feel they are already being asked to do too much.
There is no need for embellishment because the facts tell the story well enough. A recent report from the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations says Tennessee needs to spend $37.3 billion to address the state’s basic infrastructure needs.
Officials say the cost of infrastructure improvements total $18.9 billion for transportation and utilities, $7.7 billion for education, $1 billion for economic development, $7.1 billion for health and safety needs and $1.8 for recreation services. As a total, these figures represent $9 billion more in infrastructure needs than that forecast by TACIR just a few years ago.
Circumstances may soon force Tennessee lawmakers to address some of these infrastructure needs. The state’s primary funding mechanism for highway construction — a tax at the gas pumps — simply cannot keep pace with all the needs. Gov. Bill Haslam and the General Assembly will have some difficult decisions to make next year in regards to prioritizing highway projects and how to pay for them.