In Anniston, Mayor Vaughn Stewart and the City Council are now well aware that one of the city’s biggest issues is its infrastructure — specifically, a deteriorating drainage system that new City Manager Brian Johnson has described as a “ticking time bomb.”
How the mayor and council handle this crisis will be one of their legacy moments. That may sound silly, if not harsh, considering we’re discussing pipes to carry away stormwater, not development projects that revamp public education or import needed jobs.
Nevertheless, this is important to the city’s long-range future.
Earlier this week, reporter Patrick McCreless’ story in The Star detailed just how bad a scenario Johnson has laid out to City Hall. The bottom line: Sinkholes have already cost the city thousands of dollars in repairs, and more should be expected if the aging pipes aren’t replaced. It’s an understatement to say this is a large undertaking for a small city with lingering financial constraints.
If it matters, Anniston isn’t alone in its plight. Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers released its 2013 report card on U.S. infrastructure. The report was a brutal wake-up call to politicians from Washington on down to the local level, such as Stewart.
Using the familiar A,B,C,D and F grading scale, the engineers gave D grades or worse to nine categories, such as dams, drinking water, hazardous waste, wastewater and roads. Three categories — bridges, ports and rail — received C or C-plus grades. Solid waste was the only category to receive a B grade.
There were no A grades.
In their summary, the engineers wrote, “We know that investing in infrastructure is essential to support healthy, vibrant communities. Infrastructure is also critical for long-term economic growth, increasing GDP, employment, household income, and exports. The reverse is also true — without prioritizing our nation’s infrastructure needs, deteriorating conditions can become a drag on the economy.
“While the modest progress is encouraging, it is clear that we have a significant backlog of overdue maintenance across our infrastructure systems, a pressing need for modernization, and an immense opportunity to create reliable, long-term funding sources to avoid wiping out our recent gains.”
All sorts of parallels can be made to infrastructure throughout Alabama, some of which is in dire need of repair. But our immediate concern is here in Anniston, where repairing a deteriorating drainage system — and paying for said repairs — has jumped closer to the top of the city’s pressing concerns. Mundane city operations are vitally important, too.