Danielle Stewart for Mayor of Beckley
Position Paper #9: Infrastructure
"All of our competitors around the world, every country is investing more in infrastructure as a percentage of their GDP than we are. And down the road our children and grandchildren will have to compete with that more and more."
- Douglas R. Oberhelman, former CEO and Executive Chairman of Caterpillar Inc.
$119 million (and growing)
Peanuts when you think of the $1.3 billion WV is spending on the Roads to Prosperity program. Still, $119 million could do a lot of good in Beckley. We could repave and repair every state road and sidewalk in Beckley including Johnstown Road, Fayette Street, Kanawha Street, Vance Drive, and Harper Road just to name a few. What a great way to set Beckley up for the future and attract new businesses!
We are not getting Johnstown Road, Fayette Street, Kanawha Street, Vance Drive, and Harper Road fixed in Beckley. What Beckley is getting for $119 million (and growing) is an extra lane on an 8 mile stretch of the turnpike so out of state drivers can get through Beckley 30 seconds faster on the 5 busiest days of the year. This is a worthless project to the people of Beckley and shows a complete lack of understanding of the needs of the city.
I will be honest here; this particular project makes me just as angry as the purchase of Black Knight. With all the needs we have in this city regarding state roads, an extra lane on the turnpike is nothing but a waste of money that we will pay for over the next 12-30 years. That is 12-30 years that we will be dodging potholes and walking along roads without sidewalks so people from Ohio and North Carolina can bypass our city, and businesses can locate elsewhere because the infrastructure inside Beckley is falling apart.
This lack of understanding and foresight is just a microcosm of the infrastructure issues in Beckley. Our roads, water, sewer, storm water, electricity, and natural gas infrastructure are all failing. Most of our infrastructure is well beyond their planned service life. Some of this is explained by our population loss – less revenue to utilities because of empty houses. Some of it is explained by decisions to fund new infrastructure instead of maintaining existing infrastructure. Some of it is explained by conscious decisions by privately owned utilities to maximize their profits by neglecting maintenance on their infrastructure (Appalachian Electric Power earned $1.92 billion and Mountaineer Gas earned $327 million in 2018).
As Mayor, this is how I will address the lack of understanding, vision, and apathy that appears at every level of government.
I will create a Beckley Infrastructure Board. The board will be made up representatives from the city, WV Department of Highways, Beckley Sanitary Board, Beckley Water Company, Mountaineer Gas, Appalachian Electric Power, Frontier Communications, and Suddenlink Communications. I will also invite our state House of Delegates and Senate legislators as well as representatives from the offices of our Congressional representatives. This board will work together to modernize our infrastructure and has several key tasks.
The first key task is coordination. It seems every time a road in Beckley is paved, one of the utilities shows up a month later and tears a hole in it to repair their infrastructure. By coordinating our efforts, we can achieve efficiencies with personnel and equipment. If the city is going to tear up a road to pave, it only makes sense for utilities with underground infrastructure to use that time and effort to repair or replace their systems.
The second key task is prioritization. The Infrastructure Board will lead the evaluation and prioritizing of neighborhoods for infrastructure improvements. The goal is to improve or upgrade each neighborhood’s infrastructure to last for the next 50 years. The utilities know their infrastructure needs replaced and by prioritizing neighborhoods we can then work together to make that process faster, more efficient, and at a reduced overall cost. I expect the city and utilities can only support improving one neighborhood every six months meaning this is not a short-term project, but it must happen eventually; the Beckley Infrastructure Board will be the foundation for the effort.
The third key task is funding. There is federal and state money available, as well as private investment funds, to do the work that needs done and we must fight to get it. The city and utilities, armed with prioritized neighborhoods and shovel ready plans, will jump on every opportunity. We will work with our state and federal representatives to understand our needs and equip them to help us fight for funds. The money is there, and we will go get it.
As mayor, I will also hold city, state, and federal agencies accountable for their actions. People are told “Beckley is not political” as an excuse as to why our city government allows others to ignore the needs of Beckley. I WILL BE POLITICAL. I will use the bully pulpit provided by the Mayor’s office to call out politicians, state and federal agencies, and utilities when they make poor decisions regarding our infrastructure. I will be the loudest voice in the room fighting for Beckley. The politicians, state agencies, and utilities will get tired of my constant phone calls, emails, and meetings and will fund our improvements just to shut me up. I will always put the needs of our city first.
Now is the time to invest in our city’s future, we cannot wait. Through the Beckley Infrastructure Board, I will fight for the money and coordinate the efforts that will improve and sustain Beckley for the next 50 years. Together, we can create a Beckley that our children and grandchildren will be able to call home.
“We can put millions of America's idle young people to work helping to repair and restore America's deteriorating infrastructure, public utilities, and transportation systems. Nothing would revitalize the nation's sagging economy more than such a commitment.”
– Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr.