Reps. Longhurst and Viola: Benefits of New Infrastructure Investments Far Outweigh the Costs

 

By Rep. Valerie Longhurst and Rep. John Viola

After another long, cold winter that took its toll on our state’s roads and highways, thousands of taxpaying drivers know firsthand that Delaware needs to do more to improve and maintain our transportation infrastructure. Even without the newest potholes and cracked pavement to remind us, we’ve known for years that the state simply can’t keep up with the demand for repairs and new construction in our road system – at least not at current funding levels.

Lawmakers and governors from Republican and Democratic states alike have grasped the severity of the situation. Maryland and Pennsylvania both enacted ambitious new infrastructure funding plans in the last two years, and states across the country are working toward similar goals, including solidly red states such as Utah and Georgia. Those plans cost money, which has been raised by collecting more from drivers and businesses, and leveraging that new money to borrow more.

Last year in Delaware, we in the General Assembly had this problem laid out in front of us. During the last several months, leaders from both parties in the House and Senate have been sitting down together with the same goal in mind: Find an agreeable way to dedicate more funding to roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects across Delaware.

We know this issue is not a partisan one. Democrats and Republicans believe strongly that a healthy transportation network achieves shared goals for our state.

First, a good road system keeps drivers and their families safer. It’s estimated that poor road conditions play a significant role in one-third of traffic fatalities nationwide. Modern road design, inspection and repair plans ensure that lives aren’t at risk due to crumbing concrete or rusting steel.

Secondly, more transportation projects mean more jobs in our local economy across a range of skill levels. Road work, whether it’s new construction or maintenance and repairs, requires teams of people doing many different jobs in different parts of the state. State-funded projects mean contracts and steady work for a variety of private firms large and small, from engineering and earth-moving, to paving and landscaping. Infrastructure spending strengthens our middle class with quality jobs that families can rely on for good wages and benefits.

Infrastructure projects also raise property values and improve quality of life by shortening commute times and facilitating easier access to employment opportunities. Failure to invest in infrastructure results in lost time and wasted fuel, and poor transportation systems drive up the costs of household goods. These consequences have a disproportionate effect on the middle class, with transportation costs accounting for $1 out of every $7 in the average household budget.

Most importantly, when our roads are safe and more efficient, and when more people across Delaware have quality jobs building and maintaining them, our economy grows, spurring new business investment and job opportunities. Research from the Federal Reserve shows that every $1 of public money invested in infrastructure generates $3 in economic growth.

For businesses looking to expand in Delaware or set up shop here, infrastructure is a top priority. Entrepreneurs and established firms alike have to take into account how their employees will get to work, how their customers will get to their stores, and how they can efficiently and effectively ship their products to buyers.

A good example is the recent growth around the Christiana Mall, where new construction is booming as a result of a huge investment in infrastructure at Delaware’s most notorious highway interchange. Without the improvements to I-95, Route 1 and adjacent roads, the growth of one our state’s major commercial centers would not be possible. The new development is driving employment and commerce, and in turn generating more sustainable state revenue, as a direct result of infrastructure improvements.

Making the choice to address Delaware’s need for more investment in our transportation network is a bipartisan question, and how we decide to make that happen needs to be a bipartisan solution.

We are hopeful that we will have a comprehensive plan on the table in the coming weeks to do this work, and that we will pass that plan. The answers aren’t likely to be easy, given the unavoidable fact that whatever progress we want to make will require more funding than we have available today. But, considering what Delaware stands to gain if we make these investments, we can’t afford not to take action.

 

Rep. Valerie Longhurst serves as majority leader and represents the 15th District in the Delaware House of Representatives, including the communities of Bear and Delaware City. Rep. John Viola serves as majority whip and represents the 26th District, which includes communities in greater Newark.