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Editorial: Infrastructure issues demand attention locally, nationwide
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The aging Price Road/Ga. 136 bridge at the Hall-Dawson County line needs to be replaced, according to a GDOT environmental study. The bridge has a deteriorated driving surface, exposed rebar and other issues. - photo by Scott Rogers

Like blooming flowers brought by spring rains, new development projects and building proposals are popping up all over Hall County.

A residential neighborhood here, an apartment complex there. Distribution warehouses, potential retail space, business offices. Some projects under way, some proposed and in the approval process, some already denied and being redesigned for future consideration.

A shortage of housing means there is a market for residential development. A need for “affordable” living space begs to be met with low-priced options. A subset of the housing market supports high-end rental space. Commercial growth means jobs and an expanding local economy. Industries are bouncing back and need facilities. It’s all part of a strong, healthy local economy that benefits everyone.

But with each new proposed project, the legitimate challenges certain to rise to the forefront of public concern are as predictable as rain in April and flowers in May. How will the traffic be handled, where will all the cars go? How can the schools handle more students? What about environmental concerns? Water? Sewer?

You can lump most of the concerns together under a single umbrella and call it infrastructure.

There is a lot of talk about infrastructure these days, both locally and in Washington. And for good reason. The need is obvious; it’s the will to meet the need that is questionable.

Whether you are talking about adding a sewer line to accommodate a new subdivision or rebuilding the nation’s expressways, addressing infrastructure issues is incredibly expensive, takes an inordinate amount of time and doesn’t always come with a positive political payoff.

President Joe Biden has proposed a massive plan for rebuilding infrastructure nationwide, with a price tag of some $2.3 trillion. The White House says the package, called the American Job Plan, would, among other things:

  • Fix highways, rebuild bridges, upgrade ports, airports and transit systems.
  • Deliver clean drinking water, a renewed electric grid and high-speed broadband to all Americans. 
  • Build, preserve and retrofit more than 2 million homes and commercial buildings, modernize our nation’s schools and child care facilities, and upgrade veterans’ hospitals and federal buildings.
  • Solidify the infrastructure of our care economy by creating jobs and raising wages and benefits for essential home care workers.
  • Revitalize manufacturing, secure U.S. supply chains, invest in R&D and train Americans for the jobs of the future. 

Whether any part of that presidential initiative ever wins the approval of Congress and becomes a reality remains to be seen, and it is a certainty that not everything being recommended is going to happen. But the fact remains the engineered foundation of the nation is in need of work.

We applaud Biden for making the infrastructure initiative a priority in the opening days of his administration, even as we bemoan the inclusion of some elements in the package that go beyond the scope of traditional infrastructure considerations and are sure to become political flashpoints that may threaten the ability to get any significant legislation funded. Suffice it to say the president’s definition of infrastructure goes far beyond what the term has ever meant before.

Biden presented his package as both a means of addressing needed work and a method to inject billions into the economy by creating new jobs, which are needed in many parts of the country. His proposal has barely made it into the top funnel of the political sausage grinder, and we don’t yet know whether there’s any hope of sufficient bipartisan support to make funding approval for even the most obvious needs a reality.

But the needs are real nonetheless. The nation’s expressway system needs work. There are antiquated and potentially dangerous bridges all across the country. Many of the nation’s water and sewer systems need updating. The public works list in need of addressing is a long one, and grows by the day.

For too long the national framework on which our daily lives sit has largely been ignored while politicians at all levels focused on staking out positions on issues more likely to grab the attention of voters. Building political platforms on hot button items — gun control, abortions, gender rights, immigration — is a much surer way to garner voter support than talking about investing in road projects that may not be done for 10 years, or the need for more environmentally friendly sewer plants.

The price tag is incredibly high, especially for a nation that is drowning in national debt and spending money like a college kid on spring break who bought a winning scratch-off ticket on the drive down to Florida. The concept of paying for the work with higher corporate taxes, or higher taxes of any sort, is going to be a hard sell.

The financing is a reason so many efforts at addressing infrastructure needs end up being kicked down the road for someone else to deal with. The price for completing many such projects is staggering.

For example, a recent review by The Times of major transportation projects under way in Hall County found the widening of a portion of Spout Springs Road is expected to cost $32 million; a 7-mile widening project on Athens Highway is expected to cost $45 million; a new bridge on Browns Bridge Road is expected to cost $27 million; improvements on Green Street in Gainesville are expected to cost $18 million; and a new Sardis Connector is projected to cost some $59 million.

That’s five relatively small local projects right here at home, with an estimated cost of more than $180 million. Multiply that by all the towns and counties across the nation, and all the other kinds of work that need to be done, and it’s not hard to understand why the conversation quickly turns to billions and trillions of dollars.

Some of the money to be spent in Biden’s $2 trillion would be for federal projects; some allocated to states and local governments for use.

It is too soon to say what will happen with Biden’s infrastructure package, or even what should happen with it. But you don’t have to travel far down a congested road or see much pollution in a reservoir of drinking water that comes from an outdated sewer system to realize that something needs to be done on a massive scale.

Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager

  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown

  • David George

  • Mandy Harris

  • Brent Hoffman

  • J.C. Smith

  • Tom Vivelo

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