Infrastructure provides the basis for economic development and environmental health, yet as a country our investment in this critical area has not kept pace. Despite their importance, highways, transit systems, utility systems and more are often taken for granted, and our decision-makers face difficult choices when it comes to spending limited resources.
The lack of urgency is apparent. In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, both parties touted the need for infrastructure investment, but we have yet to see substantial progress. Meanwhile the needs only increase with aging structures and a growing and shifting population. This is reflected in the ASCE’s oft-cited Report Card, which grades the overall infrastructure in the United States as a D+. Further, the report cites approximately $2 trillion in needs.
To help raise awareness, Infrastructure Week, a non-profit organization, convenes a national week of education and advocacy that brings together American businesses, workers, elected leaders and everyday citizens. This year, the 7th annual Infrastructure Week was held May 13-20.
In recognition of Infrastructure Week, Cleveland’s Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) invited area media for a tour of the Westerly Storage Tunnel on May 15. Westerly is the most recent large-diameter tunnel in the District’s 25-year, $3 billion Project Clean Lake, a CSO control plan that is cleaning up Lake Erie, the Cuyahoga River and other area waterways. When completed, Westerly will reduce overflows from the Walworth Run Sewer, one of the District’s biggest CSO points. The sewer was a natural stream that was culverted more than a century ago.
Sharing these stories with the public is helpful in demonstrating the value of these projects, which are – naturally – out-of-sight and out-of-mind. The commissioning of the Westerly Storage Tunnel alone, one of seven large tunnel projects that are part of Project Clean Lake, will significantly reduce the approximately 300 million gallons of untreated water discharged from Walworth Run annually. In total, Project Clean Lake will reduce 4.5 billion gallons of untreated water to less than 500 million gallons annually.
These projects provide not only environmental benefits, but provide jobs and contribute to economic growth. Due to investment in infrastructure, the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie have come a long way since the river famously caught fire in June of 1969. We need to make sure that people are aware of these success stories – whether it’s water, sewer or transportation infrastructure. Understanding the value of a project – vs. the cost – goes a long way toward public buy-in and investing in our infrastructure for generations to come.
Jim Rush, Editor/Publisher