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Another Voice: We must invest in a foundation if we are to build

By Edward Schiller

Infrastructure. Everyone loves to talk about it, rally around it and point to its shortcomings in the area – rickety bridges, tunnels, highways, public buildings, water, power lines and more.

Infrastructure has become the buzzword of 2013. All this talking just leads to patchwork solutions that ignore the underlying needs. It’s like having cosmetic surgery when what you really need is bypass surgery.

As a professional engineer in Western New York, I witness daily where smart investments are made and, more often, where they should be made. Projects such as Main Street in East Aurora, the Village of Hamburg and Hertel Avenue in Buffalo prove that public investment can spur further development and private investment. Conversely, not tackling more-difficult projects such as Transit Road between Broadway and Walden, not providing sufficient funding during highway projects to address underlying water and sewer issues and in general not taking a holistic approach is only kicking the can down the road and hindering economic activity.

The public is constantly being told that spending on infrastructure produces a multiple of dollars in return through increased economic activity, but the underlying explanation for how the process works is rarely understood. To begin with, new infrastructure projects and improvements need to be designed and then built, creating job and income opportunities for architects, engineers, planners, construction managers, general contractors, builders and suppliers. Greater employment means increased income tax revenues for the city and state. It also means more discretionary dollars flowing back into the economy, promoting sales of goods and services and adding further to taxable revenue and income.

Making needed improvements to our infrastructure will decrease required maintenance costs, thus impacting government spending needs. It also lays a foundation for private investment, and can significantly influence the rehabilitation of our urban centers. Private enterprises want assurances of reliable infrastructure to transport employees and goods.

Lack of funding, no consensus on priority, prolonged processes and fear of risk are all given as excuses to avoid hard decisions. But without the necessary infrastructure, economic activity ceases, something our founding fathers – surveyors, engineers, architects – instinctively knew. They acted as if it were their mission to provide a foundation for society to prosper and grow. Without infrastructure, that mission hundreds of years ago would have failed.

It’s time we learned that lesson, and addressed our critical needs with an infrastructure program that provides a foundation for the next 250 years.

Edward Schiller is a board member of the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York and president of TVGA Consultants, Buffalo.