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National News Roundup – January 24, 2023

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

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Rebuilding Infrastructure Requires Workers

Retirements loom in this sector, which could derail much needed upgrades.

Billions of federal dollars have been appropriated to rebuild and upgrade the nation’s aging infrastructure, but who is going to maintain all those roads, bridges, buildings, and water lines?

Roughly 17 million infrastructure workers will retire in the next 10 years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 1.7 million people employed in the infrastructure sector will leave their jobs each year between 2021 and 2031.

Driving the exodus, in part, is the age of the infrastructure workforce, according to a recent report by the Brookings Institution. Nearly three-fourths of transit and intercity bus drivers are 45 years old or older, as are 55.7% of power distributors and dispatchers and 53.8% of rail yard engineers.

Transit agencies will be hit by the “silver tsunami” first. Up to 50 percent of bus maintenance employees are eligible to retire in the next three to five years.

Infrastructure workers aren’t just retiring, either. The number of workers leaving jobs in construction, transportation, warehousing, and utilities for other jobs grew by almost 20 percent last year. The reason cited by the study is the difficulty of these jobs.

Septic tank workers, electricians, telecommunication line installers and highway maintenance workers, noted the report, “face long hours in hazardous conditions.”

The report finds that a major problem in finding replacements is that, even though infrastructure jobs pay relatively well, younger people don’t seem interested in working in those jobs. Only 11 percent of infrastructure workers are 24 years or younger.

Please go here to download a PDF of the Brookings report.

(Sources: Route Fifty, Brookings)

Mayors Address Affordable Housing Challenge

Issue transcends politics and geography, affecting cities coast to coast.

At the recent winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the leaders of cities of all sizes, political leanings, and income levels agreed that affordable housing is a challenging issue for all of them.

“At the end of the day…people aren’t looking to their senators to solve homelessness,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said to applause. “They’re not looking to their state legislators to solve homelessness. They’re looking to their mayor.”

In Richmond, Virginia, for example, the housing struggle includes “parasitic” capital investors making below-value cash offers and a lack of adequate care for acquired property which has ruined swaths of his city, Democratic Mayor Levar Stoney said during a panel discussion at the conference. Stoney and other local leaders also blamed short-term rental markets, house flippers, and corporate investors as detractors in struggling housing markets. He called for mayors to establish a new working group to convene on pilot programs and initiatives.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said the housing wounds are sometimes self-inflicted. “We’ve got to understand the big picture, but also the details. … The problem in our city is our zoning code,” Keller said. “We zoned our entire city for single-family dwellings, and it is destroying Albuquerque. It will hollow us out.”

Some help is available from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but the process for getting the help is flawed. Some mayors at the conference expressed irritation with funneling grant money through the state agencies instead of going directly to local leaders themselves.

“A lot of us are frustrated. We need more funds to go directly to local government,” Frank Cownie, the Democratic mayor of Des Moines, Iowa, said to a flurry of applause, citing concerns with how the state had doled out federal funding in the past. Other mayors concurred, with one adding that small cities seem to receive even less attention and financial support.

(Source: Politico)

California Copes with All-or-Nothing Rainfall

State is attempting to capture some water from storms to help with droughts.

One of the biggest issues in California these days is a feast-or-famine story. The Golden State has been struggling with a severe drought in recent years. But in recent weeks, California has been drenched with torrential rain in one storm after another due to unusual upper atmosphere weather patterns. Most of the rainwater flows uselessly to the sea. The challenge: how to capture some of it for drought-parched days.

This weather whiplash is not new to California, but climate change is expected to super-charge these extremes.

While there is bipartisan state-level support for capturing rainwater, plans to do so have met opposition. Who could possibly object to saving rainy day water for dry days in the future? Environmental activists who want to protect habitats for salmon and other species. The matter of where to store collected rainwater is a contentious issue.

Moreover, the pumps, aqueducts, and reservoirs California relies on are “outdated and vulnerable to climate change” and limit the amount of water that can be stored during winter storms, acknowledged the director of the State Department of Water Resources, Karla Nemeth.

Some people advocate funding more floodplain restoration and allowing certain water managers to more easily divert rivers and rainwater into underground basins. Los Angeles County is working to build hundreds of small wells and cisterns to grab as much river water as possible.

But it will take years of rain and careful conservation to replenish depleted groundwater supplies after a longstanding drought, said Jeffrey Mount, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, a research organization.

“We’re at the beginning of an era here in California where we’re realizing that we really have to do a better job of taking advantage of these wet periods,” he said. “But it’s thoroughly disorganized at this point.”

(Source: Politico)

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