This commentary from the Columbian in Vancouver, Wash., does not necessarily reflect the view of The Spokesman-Review editorial board.
An example of the nation’s desperate need to invest in infrastructure has landed on Vancouver’s doorstep. The city is millions of dollars short on its goals for reconstructing streets; two city-owned bridges are expected to fail within 20 years; and there is an estimated $120 million backlog of deferred street maintenance.
Among the stark-but-not-surprising revelations by a consultant was the fact that Vancouver doesn’t have enough money to carry out five high-priority capital improvement projects. Most are in east Vancouver, where roads originally built for a rural area are ill-equipped for the urban growth that has taken place. Combine that with shrinking budgets over the past several years, and the city’s streets appear headed for pothole-filled gridlock.
Aside from providing basic public-safety services such as police and fire protection, perhaps the most important function of government is the construction and maintenance of roads. The flow of transportation is crucial to the commerce and lifestyle concerns of a community, serving as a basic need for a productive society.
Yet Vancouver’s situation is all too understandable and all too common. President Barack Obama recently has returned to the nation’s aging infrastructure as a point of emphasis, saying among other things, “We know strong infrastructure is a key ingredient to a thriving economy. Unfortunately, over the past few years, too many folks have been cutting these investments in Washington (D.C.).”
In Southwest Washington, the proposed Columbia River Crossing has received the lion’s share of attention surrounding infrastructure in recent years, but that hasn’t diminished the importance of city streets and bridges. For Vancouver’s part, limited city budgets have been focused on police and fire protection, forcing roads to be left as an afterthought.
The money simply hasn’t been there, and a close examination of payrolls, benefits and pensions is in order before the city seeks assistance from taxpayers for street improvement. But taxpayers might be facing some harsh realities, as well.
Matt Ransom, the city’s policy manager, says about one-third of the money for roads comes out of the city’s general fund. Other sources include gas taxes, business license surcharge fees, real estate excise taxes, transportation impact fees, developer contributions, and state and federal grants.
Kathy Scanlan, the consultant hired by the city, suggested additional ways in which funds could be raised, among them a license fee tab increase up to $100. Given the mood of the public these days, that is about as likely as pigs taking flight.
Yet the situation points out the conundrum facing Vancouver officials. In addition to the shortfall for capital improvements to roads, the city doesn’t have the revenue to keep up with basic street maintenance or to carry out what is deemed a preservation program – rebuilding streets that require more than a quick fix.
Sometime in the near future, Vancouver residents are going to need to dig deep and make a large investment in the city’s infrastructure. It’s probably going to be sooner rather than later.