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VIEWPOINT: Let’s make Delaware infrastructure investments count

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Kathleen Rutherford | PHOTO COURTESY OF A BETTER DELAWARE

To quote one of the most famous rappers in popular culture, when it comes to the incoming and massive federal infrastructure funding, “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance … this opportunity comes once in a lifetime.” Delaware: We have only one chance to get this right and we have every ability to do so.

The state is set to receive a minimum of $2 billion in funding for roads, bridges, public transit, electrifying the transportation system, airports, water, and other infrastructure over the next five years. As we determine how best to allocate these funds, we must think differently, and we cannot rely on the same state and local agency-led project prioritization and delivery processes that have been used in the past. These processes do not prioritize the leveraging of private funding, nor do they weigh heavily enough the importance of economic development. 

This is not meant to minimize the efforts of state agencies like the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control or the Department of Transportation as they do have prioritization processes in place, but those processes are not broad enough and have been utilized to make the most from extremely limited resources. With $2 billion in resources, Delaware’s agencies must be more forward-thinking.

Other states are thinking big and outside the box, and we should as well. California has said it will use its funds to address top public needs associated with climate change and wildfires. This is outside of their normal project prioritization process and has been deemed a priority. We can also look to West Virginia, where they have determined they will use some funding specifically for rural programming to connect Interstate 79 to Interstate 81 – a project which has been planned for over a half-century. West Virginia has also indicated they will use some funds to address the cleanup of toxins from abandoned mines at an estimated cost of $11 billion over 15 years. On the Gulf Coast, Louisiana officials are looking to fund a high-speed passenger rail system between Baton Rouge and New Orleans – a project that has been studied for decades. These are just a few examples of states that are thinking big with their incoming infrastructure dollars.

Delaware must also think big. We have a tremendous opportunity to bring together the business community together with state and local governments to take a comprehensive look at how we leverage public and private investments to get the most for Delaware’s infrastructure. Delaware could maximize its share by partnering with private firms to incentivize necessary projects. Just think about that for a moment: By partnering with companies that are looking to make their own investments in and around their businesses to expand and grow, Delaware can leverage its funds to create jobs, spur economic development and expedite the timeline for major infrastructure projects. 

The wonderful thing about this concept is – as a small state with highly productive business-led organizations such as the Delaware Business Roundtable and the state’s 14 chambers of commerce – it would only take some courageous moves from members of the General Assembly and the governor to create this mechanism.

Infrastructure is not and should not be a partisan issue. Delaware has done a fine job – within its resources – to put mechanisms in place aimed at increasing and spurring economic development. Some examples include the Strategic Fund, Site Readiness Fund, and Transportation Infrastructure Investment Fund. Why not build on those mechanisms? 

Delaware is presented with a great opportunity – one of the greatest infrastructure investments in its history – and Delawareans must be concerned about our ability to meet the moment with sound policy that benefits everybody. As much as Delaware stands to gain, poor decision-making stands to jeopardize economic and sustainable growth, tens of thousands of jobs, safer communities, the environment, and overall increased quality of life for all Delawareans. So, let’s make sure we get this right.

Kathleen Rutherford serves as executive director of A Better Delaware.

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