Growth holds great value, but it needs infrastructure

Posted 3/15/17

Last week’s debate by the Bradley County Commission on whether to hurl a collective voice toward Nashville opposing Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed fuel tax hike was not a waste of time, because it …

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Growth holds great value, but it needs infrastructure

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Last week’s debate by the Bradley County Commission on whether to hurl a collective voice toward Nashville opposing Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed fuel tax hike was not a waste of time, because it offered a few reminders to local government officials as well as to our community which elects them.

Reminder No. 1: Cleveland and Bradley County residents elect Cleveland and Bradley County leaders to lead Cleveland and Bradley County ... not the state, and not the nation.

Reminder No. 2: Cleveland and Bradley County voters share with other communities in the election of state legislators — two in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate — who they entrust with their best interests in the state Capitol. This includes voting on issues that may or may not be especially popular among local constituents. All should understand: State lawmaker votes are cast looking at a picture much bigger than just our corner of the state.

Reminder No. 3: States across this vast land have said over and over they don’t want Washington, D.C., telling them what to do. The same is true at all levels of government. Counties don’t like cities overstepping their bounds. Cities don’t want counties showing too much muscle. Cities and counties turn up their noses at state intrusion. And states don’t want local jurisdictions overextending their influence. It’s all about territory. It’s all about geographic dictate. In short, it’s an unwritten understanding that reads, “Let us do our jobs, and you do yours.”

While such reminders are important because they establish protocol, they shouldn’t be considered as oppressive.

When Bradley County Commissioner Dan Rawls proposed the recent resolution opposing Haslam’s requested hike on fuel in Tennessee, his actions were reasonable albeit a bit misplaced. He cited claims of a state budget surplus and inefficiencies within the Tennessee Department of Transportation, as well as fears that the tax could remove too much disposable income from within the community. He asked his Commission colleagues to go on record opposing the hike.

They refused, by a 9-5 vote.

Here’s why. The Cleveland and Bradley County community is like any other jurisdiction in Tennessee. It is in dire need of transportation projects, most of which require state funding. In communities that are growing as rapidly as ours, infrastructure means everything.

Roads are a big part of infrastructure.

Cities and counties can grow all they want. Giant companies can bring modern factories. An expanded employment base can entice new families. Retirees can leave their distant metropolises in order to resettle into the charm of a small town with a big-city appeal. Schools can spring up. Higher education can abound. Diverse amenities can take root. Our population can grow and grow and grow.

But if we neglect underdeveloped roads — from corner to corner of this community — such growth will become a frustrating liability.

The two overburdened lanes of Highway 60, as cited by a few of the county commissioners voting against Rawls’ resolution, are one example ... but just one.

There are others. In peak hours of the day, Paul Huff Parkway slows to a crawl. Much the same can be said of the overcrowding of Keith Street and 25th Street and Ocoee Street. And to our knowledge, little has been said about the worsening congestion of Spring Place Road as motorists enter and leave the city in the early morning and late afternoon.

Oh, and don’t even get us started on the worsening hysteria called APD 40, a gnarly roadway formerly known as a bypass. And that APD 40 rush-hour snarl found at the Highway 64 Ocoee interchange whose menacingly short access and egress lane leaves motorists white-knuckled while hoping for safe passage? Given the number of “almost” accidents daily at that malfunction-junction nightmare, we are amazed more pile-ups have not occurred.

Our community is greatly appreciative for the recent improvements to the overworked, previously outdated Exit 20 and 25 interchanges. Both projects were Legislature and TDOT driven, and each was inspired by need. Local government involvement led to invaluable partnerships with state government leaders and Tennessee transportation officials.

This is how things get done.

This is the importance of vision.

This is the mandate of governments working together, not apart.

This is the unending priority called infrastructure.

This is the need for resources.

Granted, such financing must come from the pockets of taxpayers, whether they are Tennesseans or visitors traveling to, or through, our state. But without roads whose traffic flows, those same taxpayers face a future far more frustrating than paying a few more cents per gallon for the “go juice” that powers their chariots.

Assuredly, tax hikes are an inconvenient truth. But to keep up with growth means facing demand.

Rawls was not wrong to question the need for more gas tax money. This Tea Party advocate who represents the 6th District has a history of questioning how taxpayer money is spent.

But Commissioners Bill Winters, Mark Hall, Charlotte Peak, Terry Caywood and Howard Thompson, among others, were even more right to remind him of need. And that need is to catch up with growth before growth becomes a monster.

To catch up means everyone playing a part — city, county and state, and when appropriate the feds ... and yes, taxpayers too.

It’s a team approach, one that must not be encumbered by the right hand telling the left it is wearing too many rings.

Infrastructure is our future. As it goes, so goes the bump in our road ahead.

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