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National Committment is Vital

Originally published in The Boston Globe

April 17, 2011
M. Ilyas Bhatti (Letter to the Editor, Canton, MA)

Edward L. Glaeser’s April 7 op-ed "What crisis?" is misleading on the condition of our nation’s infrastructure. If we compare our roads, dams, water, and wastewater systems with those of Third World countries, then we are in pretty good shape; however, that’s not what the most powerful country’s infrastructure should look like. Not investing in our infrastructure endangers public safety and threatens our economic well-being.

Glaeser correctly asserts that "better infrastructure spending would rely on states, not the federal government." But states are strapped for cash. Without federal help, they will not be able to solve infrastructure problems. Our rivers and streams are cleaner today because federal funding in the 1980s provided billions of dollars, under the federal Clean Water Act of 1972, to the states for the construction of wastewater treatment facilities. Under the recent federal budget proposal, many cities and towns would be forced to cut back or discard such projects.

We need a national commitment. Public-private funding can work in areas where there is a tangible return for the private sector investment. But there are instances where users are not so easily identifiable. Huge pumps that regulate the flow at the Charles River Dam — a dam built with federal money — require constant maintenance and repair. Which beneficiaries along the river should be tapped to pick up a portion of such costs?

M. Ilyas Bhatti
Canton

The writer is a professor of construction management at Wentworth Institute of Technology, and served on the Metropolitan District Commission from 1989 to 1995

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