With the arrival of spring comes the marshaling of road-repair brigades to attack the thousands of potholes and fissures scarring streets large and small, many of which have long been in a state of general disrepair. Along the Wasatch Front, the change of season brings a reckoning of the challenges of maintaining public infrastructure during a time of rapid growth.
In Salt Lake City, it also comes as municipal leadership faces a pending change with the decision of Mayor Jackie Biskupski to not seek re-election. As she enters her final months in office, it’s appropriate to note the important work the city has done during her tenure to address the condition of local streets and thoroughfares. Even so, much more needs to be done, a reality that those vying to replace her in the mayor’s office would be wise to embrace.
It’s said that “all politics is local,” and there is nothing more local than what lies just beyond a resident’s curb and gutter. In Salt Lake City, two-thirds of roads are in poor or worse condition, which is obvious on a daily basis to residents and commuters. The city last year successfully floated an $87 million bond issue for road repair and development, a good start, but only a start. City engineers estimate it would cost north of $220 million to bring roads up to merely “fair” condition.
Maintenance of existing infrastructure sometimes gets lost as a priority when municipal resources are caught up in facilitating a wave of explosive growth. As the skyline boasts new residential and commercial developments, the pressure on already-burdened streets and other infrastructure increases. A wave of construction in Sugar House, for example, has residents wondering what impact new arrivals will have on crowded main avenues and side streets, most of which are already on the list of roads long-overdue for repair.
With considerable public investment happening in the development of a new airport, an inland port and other projects, it’s important that sight isn’t lost on the need to keep older, existing infrastructure up to snuff. Local government leadership in the fast-growing communities along the Wasatch Front may speak forcefully on the need to create new transportation arteries and systems to accommodate new development, but they tend to speak with less volume when it comes to spending the large amounts of public money necessary to simply keep existing roadways in working order.8 comments on this story
In the capital city, the success of the $87 million bond proposal doesn’t bring any reprieve for current and future leadership. Mayoral candidates like to speak in terms of grand visions for sustainable growth, when residents would be better served by a specific pronouncement of strategies to deal with existing road conditions and other infrastructure needs, and the specific budgeting tactics that would-be mayors and council members will deploy to meet the objectives of that strategy.
Under Mayor Biskupski, the issue has been given appropriate focus, and progress is visible these days in the common sight of orange cones and asphalt-laying machines up and down the city’s boulevards. Periods of economic growth, however, occur under their own cycles of freeze and thaw. Going forward, city leaders need to regard the task of maintaining infrastructure to be perpetual, not periodic.