From: Kathleen Rutherford, Executive Director, A Better Delaware
To quote one of the most famous rappers in popular culture, when it comes to the incoming and massive federal infrastructure funding, “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance…this opportunity comes once in a lifetime.” Delaware: We have only one chance to get this right and we have every ability to do so. The state is set to receive a minimum of $2 billion in funding for roads, bridges, public transit, electrifying the transportation system, airports, water, and other infrastructure over the next five years. As we determine how best to allocate these funds, we must think differently, and we cannot rely on the same state and local agency-led project prioritization and delivery processes that have been used in the past. Those processes do not prioritize the leveraging of private funding, nor do they weigh heavily enough the importance of economic development. This is not meant to minimize the efforts of state agencies like the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control or the Department of Transportation as they do have prioritization processes in place, but those processes are not broad enough and have been utilized to make the most from extremely limited resources. With $2 billion in resources, Delaware’s agencies must be more forward-thinking.
Other states are thinking big and outside the box, and we should as well. For example, California has said it will use its funds to address the top public needs associated with climate change and wildfires. This is outside of their normal project prioritization process and has been deemed a priority. We can also look to West Virginia, where they have determined they will use some funding specifically for rural programming to connect Interstate 79 to Interstate 81 — a project which has been planned for over a half-century. West Virginia has also indicated they will use some funds to address the cleanup of toxins from abandoned mines at an estimated cost of $11 billion over 15 years. On the Gulf Coast, Louisiana officials are looking to fund a high-speed passenger rail system between Baton Rouge and New Orleans — a project that has been studied for decades. Florida has allocated hundreds of millions for rural communities to improve infrastructure while simultaneously expanding the local workforce. Funds from that program are designed to encourage job creation, capital investment and the strengthening and diversification of rural economies by promoting tourism, trade, and economic development. Florida is also dedicating more than a half-billion dollars to resilience efforts to protect the state against rising seas, stronger storms, and flooding. These are just a few examples of states that are thinking big with their incoming infrastructure dollars.
Delaware must also think big. We have a tremendous opportunity to bring together the business community with the state and local governments to take a comprehensive look at how we leverage public and private investments to get the most for Delaware’s infrastructure. Delaware could maximize its share by partnering with private firms to incentivize necessary projects. Just think about that for a moment: By partnering with companies that are looking to make their own investments in and around their businesses to expand and grow, Delaware can leverage its funds to create jobs, spur economic development and expedite the timeline for major infrastructure projects. The wonderful thing about this concept is — as a small state with highly productive business-led organizations such as the Delaware Business Roundtable and the state’s 14 chambers of commerce — it would only take some courageous moves from members of the General Assembly and the Governor to create this mechanism.
Infrastructure is not and should not be a partisan issue. Delaware has done a fine job — within its resources — to put mechanisms in place aimed at increasing and spurring economic development. Some examples include the Strategic Fund, Site Readiness Fund, and Transportation Infrastructure Investment Fund. Why not build on those mechanisms? Delaware is presented with a great opportunity — one of the greatest infrastructure investments in its history — and Delawareans must be concerned about our ability to meet the moment with sound policy that benefits everybody. As much as Delaware stands to gain, poor decision-making stands to jeopardize economic and sustainable growth, tens of thousands of jobs, safer communities, the environment, and overall increased quality of life for all Delawareans. We should all want these things for ourselves, our families, and our communities. So, let’s make sure we get this right! Talk with your legislators and make sure they hear you. With the entire General Assembly up for re-election, the temptation to not focus on the big picture is greater than ever. We cannot let that happen. “Look if you had one shot, or one opportunity…would you capture it or just let it slip?”