By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.
Mayor of Lewiston
When we encounter a problem in our lives and we are in search of ways and means to solve it, we look for what has been tried and true in solving it. The same holds true in government; when we encounter an economic and jobs problem like we are in with our current recession, we need to look at our history for a means of solving it.
I firmly believe that we need another “New Deal” type of problem solving. With the current unemployment rate and our infrastructure needs in our country, we need a jobs-creating new deal. President Franklin D. Roosevelt with his “New Deal” brought us out of the “Great Depression.” We need bold leadership such as his to bring us out of our current depressed economic situation by creating a jobs recovery program. We also must not go back to what got us in this mess to begin with.
The infrastructure of our country is in dire need of help. Below I will demonstrate the deplorable state of Lewiston’s infrastructure—and we may even be in better shape than many major cities in our country. How then do we fix our infrastructure before it completely falls apart? Well, in my opinion, there is no better time than the present. You might say we can’t afford it, and I say we can’t afford not to do it. Americans need jobs; we have a dire need for infrastructure improvement, therefore, it can be a win/win that will get our dollars circulating again for the good of all. You might say it is naïve, but hey, it worked before and it can work again.
As I was contemplating this column for this week and knowing of the infrastructure needs of our city, which is replicated all over America, I asked City Administrator Ed Barrett and through him Public Works Director Dave Jones to lay out our infrastructure needs and the length of time it would take to satisfy those needs at the current rate of our repair or replacement. Here is their response:
Lewiston’s Infrastructure Needs:
Streets. The city’s adopted five-year capital improvement program calls for $115.5 million in projects, including $53.5 million to be locally funded. This includes over $8.5 million in road rehabilitation and paving projects.
Lewiston has 188 miles of roadway. On average, roads should be repaved at least once every 15 years—or 12 miles of paving should be done per year. To meet this goal, the city should be spending over $5 million a year. This year, we will actually be spending about $2 million. Given that the annual amount of paving the city has done has declined as a result of the recession, we could easily spend $5 or $10 million in reconstructing and repaving roads that desperately need attention and will only worsen over the next few years.
At our current rate, it will take between 35 and 40 years to repave all of our streets.
Sidewalks. The city has 80 miles of sidewalk that should be repaved or reconstructed every 20 to 30 years. This costs about $40 a linear foot for each side of the street. We should be spending more than $500,000 a year on sidewalks. In recent years, we have spent virtually nothing, so a large backlog of needed work exists.
Water Main Replacement. Lewiston’s water system has about 160 miles of distribution mains of between four and 24 inches in diameter. Of these, 28 miles are over 100-years-old and need to be replaced. At current costs of about $100 per linear foot, replacing these lines will cost over $80,000,000.
We are currently only spending about $1 million a year on these projects. At current funding, it will take 80 more years just to replace the lines that are currently over 100-years-old. By then, a significant portion of the distribution system will still be over 100-years-old.
Stormwater Management. The city is under a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Protection to address our combined sewer overflows. We currently spend about $2 million a year on this program and have about $8 million more under the current 15-year plan. It is likely additional significant amounts will be required to address water quality in our designated impaired urban streams as regulatory agencies are focusing more and more on stormwater as a source of pollution.
Sewer Lines. As with our water system, sections of our sewer system are extremely old and vulnerable to collapse or other problems. Slightly more than 10 miles of our sewers are brick, often dating back over 100 years. At $225 per linear foot, replacing these lines will cost over $50 million.
We’re currently spending $200,000 to $300,000 a year. At current funding levels, it will take us 200 years to replace only our brick sewers.
Schools/Public Buildings/Public Facilities. Longley and Martel elementary schools need to be replaced at a cost in excess of $20 million. The city’s three fire substations are all over 60-years-old and must be renovated, expanded or replaced at a cost of $4 million. Many of our parks and public spaces need to be renovated and new open space is needed.
The list goes on and on.
Well folks, this is only the little City of Lewiston. Repeat these needs nationwide and we see that we have much work to do. Just imagine the jobs that could be created if we had a “New Deal” to address these issues and put people back to work.
I’m not talking here about just digging holes and putting in new pipes or paving. I’m talking manufacturing jobs to make the materials necessary to accomplish this work. Someone has to make these pipes. Someone has to make the machinery to be able to do this work. Once people start working again with good jobs, they will start spending and circulating the dollars to make our economy grow. Oh, and by the way, we will have saved our infrastructure before it collapses under our feet.
We also have a desperate need for a rail system in this country. Our airports are overflowing and the need for transportation is ever increasing to move people and goods. Here are more job opportunities.
You might say we can’t afford to do all of this. Well, we need to start as we can’t afford not to do it and in the interim we will improve our economy.
We have had a stimulus for Wall Street, and now we need a stimulus for Main Street. There are some who say we need to cut spending and extend tax cuts. In my opinion, when we need to stimulate our economy, we need to invest in it. Remember, it takes money to make money.
We need to call a spade a spade: we don’t talk about eliminating tax cuts, we now call that tax increases. Heck, we even call that “revenue.” Remember George H.W. Bush calling them “revenue enhancers.” Call it what you will, I call all of it taxes. That is how governments pay for the services they provide. Without taxes, they can’t provide the services we need.
We don’t call people “rich” anymore; we call them “job creators.” Now, let me see; the Bush-era tax cuts have been in effect for 10 years now; where are the jobs? For some reason, I have never seen “trickle-down economics” ever quite trickle down to the middle class. What we have seen are the rich getting richer and the canyon between the rich and the middle class ever widening. How long can we continue this way?
Upon accepting the 1932 Democratic nomination for president, Franklin D. Roosevelt promised “a new deal for the American people.” Here are his words: “Throughout the nation men and women, forgotten in the political philosophy of the government, look to us here for guidance and for more equitable opportunity to share in the distribution of national wealth. I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people. This is more than a political campaign. It is a call to arms.”
President Obama, it is high time for another “new deal” to create the so desperately needed jobs and put it to Congress and let the right wing radicals fight you on it while you fight for the American middle class to get back to work.
I implore you to do so and for our congressional delegation to support you instead of running fearful of the “Tea Party.”
See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.