President Biden’s Build Back Better plan has brought national attention to our aging infrastructure. That is good, but critical infrastructure is a core responsibility of our state and county governments, and it is time they lived up to that responsibility.
Infrastructure is a broad and rather lackluster-sounding term, but it covers elements that are very important to our everyday lives. Our local streets and state roads are in such terrible shape, full of ruts, potholes and rough surfaces, that I am embarrassed when I bring in visitors from out of state. The streets are not safe for kids riding their bikes to school or for older adults walking their dogs and make travel uncomfortable for people of any age riding in cars. Maybe this is a deliberate alternative to speed bumps to slow down the traffic, but if so, I think a little less creativity is in order.
Maintenance of many of our public buildings, especially our schools, has been severely neglected. A case in point is Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, where inspections have uncovered mold and high humidity throughout the building and elevated lead levels in plumbing fixtures, among other deficiencies. Renovations to Oakland Mills may get funded this year in response to public pressure, but why does the public have to complain to get action?
Howard County was ranked one of the 10 richest counties in the country in December 2021, by Forbes and surely can do better. Maryland as a whole consistently ranks among the wealthiest states in the country, but in some less affluent counties in Maryland, some schools do not even have air conditioning.
Ellicott City used to be known as the site of the oldest remaining passenger railroad station in the U.S. Today when you mention it to outsiders, they are much more likely to say, “Oh, yeah, that’s where all the floods are.”
The floods in our historic district bring headlines, and that provokes headline-grabbing big flood mitigation projects to help prevent damage during our next major deluge, but weather-related problems go far beyond these floods. In other parts of Howard County and no doubt elsewhere in the state, stormwater management infrastructure is shockingly inadequate.
In my Dunloggin neighborhood many neighbors have significant longstanding water every time there is a heavy rain and wet basements and other damage from bigger storms. A number of my neighbors have spent more than $50,000 each to repair damage and try to prevent future problems in their homes and on their property. At the end of my block the street gets covered with standing water in every heavy rain, and this becomes ice in winter, making turns rather dangerous.
Public works to address infrastructure problems are not glamorous and do not make great fodder for press conferences. But they are important to the quality of our lives and provide the foundation on which can be built the more “innovative” programs elected officials take pride in. Call me unimaginative, but I take pride in mundane things like smooth roads, dry basements, and school buildings where our children can learn without endangering their health. It’s your job, county and state officials; please do it right.