Now is the time to ask about money being spent on what we are building [UPDATED]Published 10:05am Thursday, March 14, 2013 Updated 12:10pm Thursday, March 14, 2013
Nestled within Sunday’s editorial (“Repair Vernon Avenue soon;” March 10) was a rhetorical jab at Fergus Falls’s newest addition to its transportation network, the Tower Road Bridge.
The editorial questioned the current state of Vernon Avenue vis-a-vis the new bridge and the money used to build it. While the immediate critique might be misplaced — the funds to build the bridge came largely from higher (state, federal) levels, while the city had comparatively little skin in the money game — the underlying sentiment hits the mark.
Instead of looking where the money went, we should look to where the money is going to go. Over the next 30 years, the bridge will play a role in the well-being of Vernon Avenue, as well as every other street in town, and vice versa. Every bridge we build and every mile of road we pave becomes an additional maintenance obligation for the city. Knowing this, it is important to step back and look at the kind of infrastructure growth the city has realized and ask “Is this something that generates value? Does each new Tower Road Bridge or water main extension help create the kind of tax base that will pay for itself over the life of the project?”
It’s been said nationally and at the state level that we’re in the midst of an infrastructure crisis, unable to maintain the assets we’ve already built.
In Minnesota we have over 1,000 bridges classified as “structurally deficient,” including 15 here in Otter Tail County.
As more federal and state dollars become tied up in trying to keep what we’ve got in usable condition, the pressure on cities and their citizens to provide adequate funding for the continued maintenance of local streets and utility services will only mount.
Now would be a good time to start asking real questions about the kind of places we’re building for ourselves, and the money we’re spending to do it. Luckily, here in Minnesota, we’ve got a rising star in the field. Strong Towns, a nonprofit think-tank based out of Brainerd, is doing nationally-recognized work providing clear, nonpartisan critiques and responses in the fields of urban planning, municipal finance, economic and social development, and more.
On April 18, Strong Towns co-founder Charles Marohn will be in Fergus Falls to deliver the group’s “Curbside Chat,” which is a critical look into the ways that we grow, finance, and live in our cities and small towns.
The lecture will be held at the Kaddatz Galleries at 3 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
A repeat performance will be held later that night in Battle Lake. All are invited and encouraged to attend.
Additional information about the Strong Towns group can be found on their website (strongtowns.org); flyers and other promotional material for the upcoming lecture will be distributed as the event draws near.