It’s Time for Smart Growth and Planning | Commentary

Posted April 30, 2014 at 2:56pm

A recent report card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers should concern the public because it highlights the crumbling condition of our nation’s infrastructure. Delayed maintenance and underinvestment in several major infrastructure categories resulted in a dismal overall grade of D+. The large number of structurally deficient bridges in the U.S. and our declining road conditions are not only dangerous for users but also threaten future economic prosperity.

The U.S. cannot compete globally if we are unable to move people and products safely, efficiently and economically. Accordingly, we need to be scoring in the top percentile using modern, state-of-the-art technology, planning and construction, not lagging behind countries like Estonia as we patch, piecemeal and paint over existing infrastructure needs.

The safety of the traveling public must be first and foremost. We know that the conditions of the road contribute to one of every three traffic fatalities. Currently the worst trending problem is pedestrian safety. Population growth, combined with aging and inadequate infrastructure, leads to traffic congestion, poor air quality and increased risks to drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

Because more and more residents are either choosing or being forced to use active transportation to get to work and school, to go shopping and do chores or for exercise and recreation, there has been a significant increase in bike and pedestrian fatalities in recent years. In fact, nearly 16 percent of traffic deaths in 2012 were people walking and bicycling, and yet less than 1 percent of safety funding goes toward infrastructure to protect them.

These national trends are sadly the reality in my district in Southern Nevada. In 2011, Clark County experienced 23 pedestrian fatalities. The number of lives lost jumped to 42 in 2012 and last year, 51 men, women and children were tragically killed on area roadways.

Complicating and contributing to this rise in fatalities is the rapid population shift from rural and suburban communities to the nation’s cities. Between 2012 and 2013, three of four metropolitan areas grew in population. Roughly 85 percent of Americans or 269.9 million people now reside in cities. Las Vegas, for instance, has seen a 37 percent increase in population since 2000.

It is vital that we recognize this growing epidemic and give our states and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) the resources and flexibility to address pedestrian safety in our communities. This includes setting separate measures for motorized and non-motorized safety and encouraging states and MPOs to review their safety programs and make decisions that protect all kinds of users. It also means investing more funds in such programs.

For many communities, it is not just the resident population that has transportation needs that must be met. Cities like New York, San Francisco and Miami must also accommodate tourist populations on which their economies heavily rely. In Las Vegas, for example, we have a four-mile stretch called the Las Vegas Strip that attracts more than 40 million visitors every year from all over the world. How our community welcomes, accommodates and serves those visitors, as well as the more than 2 million residents who call Southern Nevada home, is a challenge that we are facing together.

Last year the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, which serves as our local MPO, transit authority and traffic management agency, enacted a “complete streets” planning policy that will ensure that future transportation projects take into account issues like connectivity, multi-modal use and future growth. This kind of forward thinking not only leads to better designed projects but reduces costs in the long term and saves lives.

More and more communities across the country are adopting “complete streets” policies every year. As members of Congress, it is our responsibility to support and incentivize these forward-thinking policies. They not only contribute to an improved quality of life but also bolster the local economy by creating jobs and moving people and products more efficiently.

All too often Congress moves from one man-made crisis to the next, injecting uncertainty into the economy. With Highway Trust Fund insolvency looming this summer and state DOTs planning to delay or cut contracts during the height of the construction season, we cannot afford, nor can we risk, kicking this can down an already deteriorated road. It is time for Congress to step up, come together and offer real solutions to support transportation infrastructure that isn’t maintained to the lowest common denominator, but meets the needs of a growing nation for today and generations to come.

Rep. Dina Titus is a Democrat from Nevada.