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The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has infused $680 million into roads since it was enacted. Despite critics who charge that it provides little more than a loose patchwork of quick fixes, it is working: More than 2,000 projects are under way in 47 states.
But it's not enough for infrastructure “consumers” bombarded daily with news about stimulus-funded improvements when they don't see anything significant taking place in their particular community.
In California — which received $160 million for water treatment but needs $39 billion over the next two decades to remove pesticides, nitrates, industrial chemicals, and arsenic from groundwater — residents are asking the state legislature to declare clean water to be a human right (for more information, see the “Web extra” box on page 34).
In New York, legislators representing the western part of the state are arguing that funding formulas result in a disproportionately small — 6.7% of the state's total $1.12 billion allocation — amount of support compared to the number of roads and bridges there.
And in Chicago, disgruntled constituents made national news in April when they took street repair into their own hands. Many of the city's 3,800 miles of streets had been pock-marked with potholes — more than 500,000 according to the city's DOT — after record snowfall and icy temperatures last winter pummeled the nation's third-largest city. Sixty city crews patched up to 8,000 potholes daily last winter, repairing virtually all of them within five months.
Despite this monumental effort, members of the South Austin Coalition applied 15 bags of Quikrete Asphalt Cold Patch into more than a dozen potholes using a 50-pound roller owned by one resident and surrounded by neighbors who warned them of oncoming cars.
Many public works operations were short-funded and short-staffed long before the stimulus package was being considered. Now, projects that didn't receive funding are being held up because resources are still tightening, forcing managers to continue to make tough choices regarding resource allocation.
“Part of the misconception is that the legislation was designed to create jobs, but a lot of people still think it's an infrastructure bill,” says Jeanette Brown, executive director of the water pollution control authority in Stamford, Conn., a city of 120,000. “The amount invested in infrastructure is infinitesimal compared to what our needs are.”
Indeed, the EPA estimates that the nation's wastewater infrastructure requires $390 billion in repairs and replacements over the next two decades. Connecticut's alone needs $1 billion. “The average property owner pays about .005 cents/gallon for wastewater conveyance, treatment, and disposal but thinks nothing about buying a bottle of water that costs $8/gallon,” Brown says.
She's still waiting to hear if the authority's request for $25 million in Clean Water revolving loans for several projects, including a waste-to-energy initiative that would use gasification to power the 24-mgd treatment plant, has been approved.