January 23, 2019 2:00 PM, EST

Mayors Call for Infrastructure Deal, Federal Cooperation

Steve Benjamin and LaToya CantrellColumbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell share the podium. (Eleanor Lamb/Transport Topics)

WASHINGTON — Pursuing a federal infrastructure package is a top priority for mayors this year, according to Steve Benjamin, mayor of Columbia, S.C.

Benjamin, who kicked off the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting Jan. 23, identified infrastructure, innovation and inclusion as the three pillars that make up the organization’s most pressing goals.

Steve Benjamin

U.S. Conference of Mayors President Steve Benjamin. (Eleanor Lamb/Transport Topics)

Members of USCM’s infrastructure task force, led by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, have advocated for an infrastructure deal in meetings with administration leaders such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Benjamin, who also is USCM president, said meetings with leaders and lawmakers will increase this year.

“Our plan is to engage early with leadership in Congress to ensure that any infrastructure package that may emerge is focused intently on the needs of our cities and metro areas,” Benjamin said. “We’ll make sure that you’re armed with the tools to push our congressional leaders and the administration to move forward a major infrastructure package this year, one that seriously complements the vast majority of infrastructure that’s currently being built by our cities and our state departments.”

President Donald Trump’s proposed infrastructure plan places an onus on state and local government agencies to raise funds. The funding principles unveiled Feb. 12, 2018, would rely significantly on nonfederal funds to reach a $1.5 trillion top line over 10 years. Overall, $200 billion in direct federal funds would be sought to achieve the plan’s desired top line.

Benjamin pointed out that metropolitan areas were responsible for 99% of growth and economic input over the past year and said that infrastructure investment is needed to maintain these centers. He said more than $4 trillion is needed to address critical infrastructure issues.

USCM’s infrastructure task force prioritizes investments in state and local block grants for transportation, harbor maintenance, water system repair and addressing climate change needs.

“As we have polled all of our communities throughout the United States of America, infrastructure is its top priority,” Cantrell said. “It’s not just roads and bridges. It’s also streets and drainage and transportation options for our people.”

Garcetti, Cantrell’s counterpart on the infrastructure task force, stayed in Los Angeles to reach a compromise on the teachers strike.

USCM’s meeting started on the 33rd day of a partial government shutdown. Although the Highway Trust Fund remains operational, state and local officials have started to feel the shutdown’s effects as it wages on.

Keisha Lance Bottoms

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. (Eleanor Lamb/Transport Topics)

For example, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said that her city, home to the busiest airport in the country and host of the Super Bowl, is expecting a major influx of travelers for the Feb. 3 game. She said that she and her counterparts have arranged for Transportation Security Administration workers, many of whom have been working without pay since Dec. 22, to open lines early on the Monday after the game to help deal with massive crowds.

Many mayors formed a chorus of voices expressing frustration over the shutdown and calling for national leaders to work together.

“Every day, mayors put aside our partisan difference and find common ground on even the most difficult of issues,” Benjamin said. “We don’t have the luxury of turning our back on our residents. It’s time for Washington to take a page out of our playbook.”