It’s a story that local public officials know all too well in the modern era… abdication of the Federal Government when it comes to infrastructure projects. Whether it was Democrats moving to prioritize other needs over needed infrastructure spending, or Republicans trying desperately to refuse spending of any kind, one thing is clear… federal partners have been absent from the picture for a long time.
As the Houston Chronicle Editorial board shares, some local officials have had enough, and are even linking this abdication to this week’s historic flood events…
“Acts of God” are what we call those violent forces of nature outside humanity’s control.
The floods that struck Brays Bayou during Monday’s storm, however, feel a bit like an act of Congress.
Floods are nothing new for the neighborhoods near those muddy waters, but after Tropical Storm Allison the federal government united with the Harris County Flood Control District to improve water retention and flood prevention in the Brays Bayou watershed. The project began with optimistic expectations, working off a bipartisan local-federal framework established by former Houston-area U.S. Reps. Tom DeLay, a Republican, and Ken Bentsen, a Democrat. However, the promised federal funding has been hard to come by. Groups such as the Bayou Preservation Association have had to engage in letter-writing campaigns to convince the federal government simply to reimburse the flood control district as promised. As the funds have tightened, the construction along Brays Bayou has slowed to a trickle. Now a project that was supposed to be completed last year has been pushed back to 2020, according to Dr. Phil Bedient, director of the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disaster Center at Rice University. That’s six years of potential floodwaters – including Monday’s flood – that could have been significantly reduced.
How many flooded homes and businesses would have survived if the project had been completed on time? It is a question that’s hard to answer, but in a speech during Wednesday’s City Council meeting Councilman Larry Green placed the blame at the feet of our representatives in Washington.
“We know that if Project Brays is fully funded it will allow for the widening and will provide Brays Bayou the opportunity for more capacity,” said Green, who represents District K in southwest Houston. “I implore our federal representatives to stop playing partisan politics when it comes to infrastructure investment.”
We live in a time when elected representatives care more about playing to primary voters than delivering for their district’s needs, and when any spending – no matter how necessary – can be dismissed as pork. But try telling that to the residents of Meyerland, or owners of grocery stores that sat underwater, or congregants at flooded synagogues.
The Chronicle’s question is certainly a valid one, especially when you consider just how common flooding is for the Houston area. At some point, we know that there is going to be another flood.
The Weather Channel took on this question, and did a comparison of the 2015 Memorial Day Flood to others in Houston’s history, including Tropical Storm Allison. Basically, floods happen in Houston… it’s not a matter of if, but when and where.
In 2001, Brays Bayou and the Meyerland did not flood as severely as other areas of the city. For this area of town, the 2015 flood bore a much greater impact with more localized damage to homes and businesses. It’s a shame to think that preparation was already in place that could have prevented so much damage.
President Obama has made campaigning for infrastructure investment a central hallmark of his time in office. Whether 2009, 2012 or 2015, he has tried repeatedly to send the message to Congress that our nation’s aging roads, bridges and flood systems were not built to last forever. Whether you believe in Climate Change, population growth, or just change, the nation’s infrastructure must have investment or it will fail.
Infrastructure investment at the Federal level has all but dried up. But our tax revenues have not. Every single year, we send trillions of dollars to Washington in sales, income and property taxes. But with the way Congress has functioned lately, you’d be hard-pressed to know it. Eventually, Americans must ask one other question– if our tax dollars aren’t being used to improve the country, then what are they being used for?? Council Member Green is right… it’s time for Congress to get its act together.