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State and Local Governments Take On Deferred Maintenance

This post is part of a series focused on solving the $2 trillion infrastructure funding gap and positioning the United States for the future.


The dialogue on infrastructure has long focused on the need for new and improved public services and facilities, ignoring the even greater need for the repair and replacement of workhorse assets like wastewater treatment plants and bridges. This is due in part to a lack of recognition or reward for public officials to tackle maintenance. As a result, core infrastructure assets have been neglected for decades and will now require vast sums to be restored to a state of good condition.

But this is now changing as more and more public finance officials take the lead in turning the staggering multi-trillion dollar estimates of deferred maintenance liabilities into data-driven asset management strategies. A discussion of the factors driving this change can be found here.

To encourage this change in focus from grand ideas to the infrastructure we already have, here are some of the deferred maintenance projects we’re watching that deserve recognition:

Libraries. Against an accumulation of $100 million in deferred maintenance needs, the Denver library system is using a $31 million voter-approved bond issue to modernize the central library and the 10 of its 25 regional branches that have gone the longest without renovation. Soon, the some 2,600 patrons who use those branches every day will enjoy updated HVAC systems, elevators, computer access and other basics.

Roads. The Louisville, Ky., Metro Council developed a “fix it first” strategy expressly to address deferred road maintenance needs. It resulted in 130 roads being repaved, besting all previous efforts. An additional $190 million in street and sidewalk repairs is on deck.

Levees. In addition to a $100 million repair program dedicated to through-levee conduits that had been compromised by deferred maintenance, the California Department of Water Resources funded an experimental flood control project for the Dos Rios floodplain to test a methodology that reconnects rivers with natural floodplains. It changed hearts and minds not only in California but also in Mississippi and Missouri, where similar projects are now underway.

Parks. With 284 deferred maintenance projects at state parks needing $184 million in funding, the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism used its four-year $17 million budget to keep all 47 of its parks accessible and safe for visitors by doing essential projects such as repaving an impassable park entry road and replacing two sewer systems and a bridge.

Dams. Over the past five years, New Jersey has improved 28 dams through its dam rehabilitation program. Dams that had been rated in “fair” or “poor” condition now meet federal safety guidelines.

Transit. Chicago’s Red and Purple Modernization program is rebuilding a 9.6-mile stretch of track that was built almost a century ago. Serving some of the most densely-populated communities in the country, phase one of the $2.1 billion transit project is under way and ridership has increased more than 30 percent over the past six years.

Facilities. The lion’s share of Oregon’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife $93 million deferred maintenance needs are related to its fourteen state hatcheries. A $5 million restoration project to rehabilitate four hatcheries is nearing completion which will protect and improve salmon, steelhead, and trout production.

Water. The City of Milwaukee’s long-range Water Main Replacement Program has increased the miles of water main lines replaced annually on average from four to fifteen. This has work has reduced the number of water main breaks to its lowest level since the 1970s.

Bridges. Pennsylvania’s Rapid Bridge Replacement program inspired bridge bundling programs in 8 other states, including Massachusetts, Ohio, Nebraska, Missouri, Georgia, New York, Rhode Island, and Oregon. This project introduced the concept of bundling the replacement of many small bridges in a single procurement to create efficiencies through economies of scale.

Wastewater. Taxpayers in the City and Borough of Juneau voted to continue funding a $47 million deferred maintenance program that is providing major improvements to its water and wastewater systems. Thirteen projects are underway that will not only reduce costs but may introduce by-products with commercial value.

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