As the mayors of Wisconsin’s five largest cities, we understand the importance of investing in our people and our infrastructure. That’s why we support President Biden’s American Jobs Plan.
This transformational plan will create family-supporting jobs, invest in critical repairs and upgrades to ensure our infrastructure is both resilient and safe, and provide the framework for Wisconsin to compete in the global economy. It will help our cities deliver key benefits and services to our communities, including clean water, improved broadband access, and will empower our manufacturing businesses. The plan will invest in our people and enhance their quality of life. The proposed federal investments will improve connectivity to jobs, education, and services via transit and other transportation modes, expand the supply of affordable housing inventory, and increase access to childcare and community-based care-giving services.
The struggle of deferred infrastructure investment is real. We face the tremendous challenge of rebuilding our infrastructure. Failure to keep up with this challenge can result in repairs that are overwhelmingly expensive. The Flint, MI water crisis has made us acutely aware of the need to remove and replace lead pipes, not only in the public right of way, but into residents’ homes. The American Jobs Plan could make these important investments a reality.
Our state has experienced 16 extreme weather events totaling $10 billion worth of damage over the past decade. All our cities have experienced flooding and damage from climate-driven extreme weather.
Powerful storms in January of 2020 ravaged portions of the Lake Michigan shoreline causing massive erosion, swallowing paths and roads, destroying parkland, and leading to millions of dollars of damage.
While our cities have been working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to cover some costs, those reimbursement funds are nowhere near sufficient to enable us to plan for and protect against future storms. The American Jobs Plan would allow us to build back better along our lakefront, providing long term protection as well as spaces for the community to enjoy.
Climate change has caused devastating flooding in all our cities. Our aging infrastructure is not equipped to withstand the worst effects of climate change nor to meet the needs of our residents and businesses into the future. The investments included in the American Jobs Plan will mitigate the risks of flooding by improving the resilience of our infrastructure, thus better protecting homes and businesses. We also welcome investments in clean energy jobs to facilitate our transition away from fossil fuels and reduce emissions and the impacts of climate change.
There are opportunities to create good, family supporting jobs while addressing infrastructure safety concerns in all our cities. In Milwaukee, the street lighting system is outdated, inefficient, and fails much too frequently. This is not an aesthetic issue; it’s an issue of safety. New infrastructure investments like street lighting upgrades will help create jobs that, for some, can lead to careers as electricians. The demand for tradespeople, including electricians, is high, particularly as our cities grow. Street lighting improvements will improve energy efficiency, lower costs and increase sustainability.
In Madison, we’re training apprentices to install solar panels and LED lights on public facilities, a program we could expand with support from the American Jobs Plan.
We must provide adequate transportation choices to our residents – choices that would allow them to access better education and employment. Madison is planning a Bus Rapid Transit System. Green Bay is innovating with on-demand micro transit. Kenosha, Racine, and Milwaukee (KRM) have long wanted commuter rail service that would stop in each of our communities. This KRM proposal could be transformational in connecting our residents to the larger region, from Chicago to Milwaukee. It would expand access to jobs for our residents and help us attract more people to our cities because of the easy access to a commuter rail service. All our cities would benefit from the expansion of Amtrak service throughout Wisconsin. The American Jobs Plan would increase our residents’ economic mobility and provide better access to jobs through major investments in public transit.
The American Jobs Plan could dramatically improve the quality of life for our residents and catalyze transformational change in our communities. We need the federal government to partner with us in making once-in-a-generation investments necessary to promote environmental justice and avoid devastating, costly outcomes.
Congress can show they recognize the needs of our communities and demonstrate their commitment to infrastructure by supporting the American Jobs Plan. A nationally funded, locally implemented strategy will improve safety of the failing infrastructure throughout this country. In 1956, President Eisenhower signed into law the Federal Aid Highway Act, thus creating the American interstate system. We should be able—65 years later—to unite behind an infrastructure bill that makes technological, physical, and human infrastructure a priority.
We are ready to combat these challenges and build truly resilient communities here in Wisconsin, but we need bold, immediate federal action to meet this moment, and that’s exactly what we’ve gotten from President Biden in his American Jobs Plan. Our cities and those across the country have suffered the effects of disinvestment for too long. President Biden understands the time to act is now, to invest in resiliency efforts and infrastructure upgrades that make our communities safer, stronger, better-connected, and built to succeed in the future.
Tom Barrett is mayor of Milwaukee. Satya Rhodes-Conway is mayor of Madison. Eric Genrich is mayor of Green Bay John Antaramian is mayor of Kenosha. Cory Mason is mayor of Racine.