Up in Washington, D.C., members of Congress are trying to figure out how to pass an infrastructure bill that both Democrats and Republicans say they wanted yesterday.
The reason it hasn't passed depends on what side you're on, but suffice it to say there's some $1.2 trillion in spending — including $600 billion in new spending for what's termed "hard" infrastructure — that most members say they're willing to back.
That amount includes spending for the likes of roads, bridges, the power grid, public transportation and the internet. They're big-ticket items that most Congress members can agree are the general responsibility of government to create and maintain.
It's the things in the other bill being put together in the Capitol — such as massive spending on climate change, education, paid leave and child care benefits — that it will be almost impossible to find consensus on.
Down in Chattanooga, the Tim Kelly administration last Tuesday submitted a report, called "Under the Hood," that laid before the Chattanooga City Council some of the challenges the city faces in repairing and maintaining its infrastructure.
It was a report, not a request for funding or a schedule of how the new administration proposes to tackle the problem. But it contained some eye-popping numbers:
* The percentage of Chattanooga's roads rated as excellent by a Pavement Condition Index has decreased by 30 points from 2010 to 2020, and the percentage of roads rated as poor has grown 13 points over the same time period.
* To maintain the city's average road condition where it is today — given the steep drop over the last decade — would cost $9.22 million per year. However, the fiscal year 2021 budget for paving was $6.3 million.
* If the status quo is maintained, the five-year financial gap to maintain existing conditions is expected to triple to $16 million in 10 years.
* Reducing the number of roads currently tabbed as poor to none over the next decade would require a paving budget of more than $17 million per year.
The report also dealt with bridges, of which the city manages 86 over rivers, creeks, roads and railroad tracks. Fortunately, as of now, 91.9% of the city's bridges are in good or fair condition.
* In fiscal year 2021, the city budgeted $400,000 for bridge repairs but needs $2 million per year for regular maintenance.
* Over the next five to 10 years, the city needs about $120 million "to repair our most critical bridges to avoid life-safety impacts to ambulance and fire service."
The status of traffic signals, those yellow nuisances that slow us down when we're determined that we must be ahead of the car now in front of us or not be delayed 45 seconds in getting home from work, also was included in the report. The city says 17 intersections need signals that don't currently have them. At a cost of $200,000 to $300,000 per intersection, that works out to $3.4 million to $5.1 million, plus a cool $4 million to $5 million for upgrades to the current network.
The report also included the city's needs for sidewalks and greenways, which to us don't come anywhere near roads and bridges in terms of importance. Oh, to be sure, we'd love to be able to fund the $1.5 billion the city says is needed for new sidewalk construction and the $3 million to $6 million needed for each mile of five new greenways the city says have been requested by residents, but they're relative luxury items compared to roads and bridges.
As mentioned above, "Under the Hood" doesn't propose a funding formula or declare in which order the city would like to move forward with infrastructure repair, but it it does suggest some "next steps." Most of them, such as seeking community input, seeking outside sources of funding, and analyzing the use of onetime federal recovery and infrastructure funds, are a given.
The last one, which suggests to "revise [the] budget," says to us that the current continuation budget, passed in June, could be shredded to make a start on the infrastructure needs. That could mean a shifting of money from the areas city government in only recent years has to come to fund to put more money into areas it has traditionally funded, though those are much smaller pots of money compared to infrastructure. It also could mean new ways of increasing revenue would be sought. We don't know, and the city won't reveal its new budget until August.
Just as with the U.S. budget, though, most people can get behind paying for real infrastructure needs. It's what else we the taxpayers are being asked to pay for, along with infrastructure needs, that is the holdup in Washington. Time will tell if that "guns and butter" argument also will play out here.