As an energy developer I receive notices of electrical blackouts around the country and the globe. The causes vary from region to region. Indonesia suffers recurring blackouts preferring to export its coal to other energy hungry nations than provide for its own people. South Africa, which endures two four hour blackouts daily, has the proverbial Catch-22 predicament of being unable to mine adequate coal supplies for power generation in part because of persistent rolling blackouts.
One of the major causes of blackouts in the US is the poorly maintained electrical grid, which like much of our national infrastructure has fallen on hard times. A free market economy demands growth to thrive but without adequate investment toward infrastructure growth is not possible.
As we have seen, not investing in our national infrastructure can have catastrophic results. The devastation in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina is widely blamed on poorly maintained levies. The collapse of I-35 in Minnesota revealed that major bridges and roadways across the country including Oregon were in desperate need of repair and maintenance.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), 25% of Oregonâ€™s bridges are â€œâ€¦structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.â€ Almost 40% of our major roadways are in poor condition and account for â€œ$684 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs — $264 per motorist.â€
Public safety is a huge consequence of bad maintenance. Portland had to grant a waiver to allow a ten ton fire truck to use a weight restricted overpass in emergencies. The ASCE also states that 84% of Oregon schools have at least one unsafe environmental condition and in some school districts, busses must add extra miles to avoid unsafe bridges.
Locally we are experiencing some unpleasant consequences with respect to both our drinking water and sewage handling. Our water has not met certain minimum standards as evidenced by notices sent by the City. Almost daily I ride my bike past the sewage treatment plant and I would positively not want to live or own a business down wind of it.
The population of Coquille has varied less than 100 people up or down since 1990. Despite a static population the existing infrastructure no longer appears to be able to handle the current load. Since moving here four years ago, my water and sewer rates have risen significantly. Hopefully, much of that increase is or will soon be applied to maintenance.
On my street which doubles as overflow parking for the court house I can state unequivocally the amount of my tax dollars applied by city management to street maintenance has been zero. While we can hope to inflate our way out of market failure and raise rates for essential services at some point we need to address the serious economic issues in this country and this community.
Should we invest more tax dollars in infrastructure? Is it really prudent for a community with a 7.8% unemployment rate to spend 30% of its general fund on law enforcement at the expense of so many other important issues? Investing adequately in our infrastructure may actually improve the job market as well as the quality of life of tax paying citizens.