This bridge won't pay for itself. (Source: John Vance)

This bridge won't pay for itself. (Source: John Vance)

While we’ve been critical of the city in the past, today we’re tipping our hat to Shreveport, LA for its honest recognition of the infrastructure costs that its development pattern has incurred.

The city’s new State of the Municipal Infrastructure midyear report concludes that serious maintenance spending will be needed over the next several years to keep infrastructure safe and operable—costs that the city doesn’t presently have a plan to pay for. The water treatment facility, local dam and sewer system are just some of the infrastructure projects that need extensive maintenance work.

Several choice quotes from local leaders in an article about the report featured in a Shreveport Times article illustrate a recognition that maintenance costs are simply overwhelming, but that a realistic look at what’s needed and a different path forward is vital:

“The infrastructure reports are always sobering,” said District B Councilman Jeff Everson, “but they are honest in recent years, after years of lying to ourselves and digging ourselves so deep into this hole. […] We didn't get here overnight, and we're not going to get out of it overnight. But at least we are not lying to ourselves any more about how much it will take to maintain our infrastructure." […]

City Councilman Michael Corbin called the needed repair and improvement work "simply overwhelming.”  

“My concern is how the city can address more of these concerns with current revenue sources," he said.

How, indeed. As Strong Towns and Urban3 have shown in numerous assessments of cities across the country, a traditional development pattern that focuses on small-scale, incremental development produces far more tax revenue and is much cheaper to maintain than the suburban development pattern that predominates on the edges of (and often throughout) most American cities and towns. Shreveport can increase its revenue streams and decrease its maintenance costs by focusing on developing those high-performing core neighborhoods and de-prioritizing work in the fringe areas.

Planning ahead before building anew is also crucial, and this infrastructure report acknowledges the city’s failure to do this. From the Shreveport Times article:

The report also notes that prevention, rather than replacement, is cheaper. As an example, the report noted the collapse of a 12-inch sewer main in a downtown alley that cost the city $96,000 to replace, but would have taken only $15,000 of preventative maintenance. […]

 "With proper asset management, better decision making and being more realistic, we will be better able to address the situation,” [Everson said].

These are noble goals and the city is full of smart, capable people who could bring them to fruition (we’ve spoken with several of them)—as long as they stay focused. However, two major expensive projects are now on the table for the city: a new sports complex and the I-49 inner-city connector (which we’ve covered extensively). A serious examination of the long-term maintenance costs involved with these two projects should be part of the conversation on whether to construct them, particularly bearing in mind the revenue shortfalls the city is currently facing to pay for its existing maintenance obligations. (And that’s on top of the many other problems megaprojects and inner city highways create).

Shreveport should not allow outside funding that is part of the project plans to distract them from the goals of “proper asset management, better decision making and being more realistic” or they’ll find themselves dug even further into the hole.

Still, as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. So we’ll chalk this report and the ensuing conversation up to a small win and we hope it shifts the trajectory in Shreveport.

(Top photo source: Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau)


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