Lake Charles mayor, Shreveport mayor author joint letter discussing federal infrastructure support
LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - In a letter released this week, Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter and Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins authored a joint letter that discusses the need for federal infrastructure support.
The letter can be read in its entirety here:
Louisianans are accustomed to long, hot summers and brief, mild winters, but in February of this year, Shreveport’s nearly 200,000 residents suffered through a once-in-a-century deep freeze that burst water mains throughout the city and left residents without running water for more than a week. Families had to boil water in crawfish pots to flush toilets and collect boxed drinking water at National Guard distribution points.
City of Shreveport employees worked around the clock to restore service, and citizen soldiers heroically pitched in to help neighbors.
Shreveport was not the only city battling with similar issues related to the winter storm. The City of Lake Charles was also impacted. One would be hard-pressed to identify another city in the United States that has endured more than the City of Lake Charles over the course of 12 months.
Hurricane Laura tore through Lake Charles in the early morning hours of Aug. 27, 2020. We expected a powerful storm, but the destruction left in Laura’s wake was unthinkable. Laura’s 150 mph winds leveled homes and businesses. She uprooted lives and badly damaged much of Lake Charles’ infrastructure.
In the end, Hurricane Laura claimed 11 lives in Calcasieu Parish and cost upwards of $12 billion. Laura also became the first storm in history to pass through Shreveport with hurricane-strength winds.
Just six weeks later, Lake Charles was hit again as Hurricane Delta made landfall at almost the exact location where Laura came ashore. Delta was the fourth named storm of 2020 to hit Louisiana and the 10th to make landfall in the United States, both records.
The unfortunate truth is that our aging infrastructure and local government budgets cannot withstand the strain of increasingly frequent storms.
As mayors of great American cities in the South, we lie awake at night dreading each forecasted storm. We, and many citizens, have experienced sleepless nights as of late, as stronger storms seem to have become more prevalent.
Louisiana has experienced more than 30 extreme weather events since 2010, which has cost tens of billions of dollars. As we come out of a historically destructive hurricane year, unprecedented winter storms, and a global pandemic, it would be wise to rebuild stronger to meet the challenges moving forward.
Now is the time to reinvest in our nation’s infrastructure in a resilient and historic fashion. A bold, federal infrastructure plan could do just that.
We must acknowledge that our climate has experienced changes and effects from human behavior. Nowhere are those changes felt more acutely than Louisiana. The current version of The American Jobs Plan includes money to help communities like ours recover and build more resilient infrastructure for the future.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and hail storms wreak havoc on our roads and bridges, but so do constrained budgets and deferred maintenance.
Decades of deferred maintenance of Shreveport’s sewerage system led to the city being placed under a $1 billion federal consent decree the citizens cannot afford. Louisiana has an infrastructure backlog of nearly $15 billion.
That backlog includes quite a few bridges. There are roughly 13,000 bridges in Louisiana. One thousand six hundred and thirty four of them or 12% are deemed “structurally deficient.”
Among those considered deficient are critically important bridges like the Calcasieu River Bridge. This bridge acts as conduit for the entire Gulf Coast. This aging bridge and the need for replacement is not a Lake Charles problem; it is truly an American problem.
Louisiana receives a D+ on its infrastructure scorecard. We currently have 3,411 miles of highway in poor condition. That is more than enough roadway to connect Lake Charles to Estevan, Canada! Louisianans drive on these nightmarish roads every day, and it costs them an average of $667 in repairs every year.
The current version of The American Jobs Plan invests $600 billion into transportation infrastructure, which includes $115 billion for roads and bridges. Bold, federal support can make our roadways safer, save drivers money, produce good-paying jobs, and create communities more attractive for economic investment.
Economic recovery from the pandemic
As mayors, we have also learned to think of infrastructure differently, due to the pandemic. COVID-19 has robbed us of friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers. It has claimed far too many lives in our respective communities. The pandemic has imposed unprecedented hardships on small business owners and exposed gaps in our infrastructure.
On March 13, 2020, public health concerns forced Gov. John Bel Edwards to begin the suspension of in-person learning for public K-12 students and switch to a virtual learning format. One-fifth of households in our state do not have an internet subscription and 60% of Louisianans live in an area with a single internet service provider, often resulting in higher prices that preclude low-income families. Approximately 650,000 Louisianans live where minimally acceptable broadband speeds are not even available. In the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, it took the major internet provider in Lake Charles far too long to re-establish connectivity with customers, creating a myriad of hardships for residents and businesses.
Communities with inadequate broadband infrastructure are disadvantaged in this day and age. We have known this for some time, but COVID enabled us to experience it. In both cities, some parents had to sit in front of the school or a library after a long day of work so their children could use the Wi-Fi to complete virtual school assignments. We cannot allow these debilitating gaps to persist.
High-speed internet is essential infrastructure in the 21st Century. It is vital for education, employment, and economic development. The American Jobs Plan invests $100 billion to bring affordable, high-speed internet to every family in America.
Now is the time for America to rebuild. We need good, high-paying jobs to reboot our economy, and we need to reinvest in our aging infrastructure. We need to build back stronger and smarter, and we need to do that with our cities and parishes in mind. We need to invest local because that is where the people live.
A federal infrastructure plan can strengthen municipalities like Shreveport and Lake Charles, positioning them to thrive in the future. It improves our roads and bridges, builds resiliency into our cities, and modernizes our infrastructure.
Infrastructure investment is not a partisan issue. It is essential. As two Louisiana mayors from differing political parties, we support the president and Congress working together to address the issues that keep us and many others awake at night. Now is the time for Washington D.C. to work together to enact bold legislation.
We cannot continue to allow our great needs to fester due to “politics as usual.” The American Jobs Plan has the goal of strengthening communities like Shreveport and Lake Charles for future success.
It is our hope that the president and Congress can find some path forward, that they can find the right language for this incredibly important piece of legislation. Two mayors from two different backgrounds and political affiliations enthusiastically and eagerly come together on this dire message. We hope the same can happen in Washington D.C.
Copyright 2021 KPLC. All rights reserved.