Economy can benefit from improved infrastructure

The Infrastructure Sustainability Plan will improve road conditions throughout the city.

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WALLA WALLA — As expensive as the Infrastructure Sustainability Plan may be to some, others argue there are economic benefit to improving a failing infrastructure.

Richard Monacelli, director of the Walla Walla Area Small Business Center, points out that there are two driving forces in economic development: education and infrastructure.

"Roads, bridges, seaports, airports, the electrical grid, all of these things allow us to maintain commerce," Monacelli said.

He further noted that interstate highway developments were common infrastructure projects during the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, and that those projects not only boosted commerce but provided jobs. And roads, just like underground pipes, were not intended to last forever.

"Whether it’s a road, water, sewer or power they don’t have an infinite life," Monacelli said.

In addition to replacing underground pipes, the Infrastructure Sustainability Plan will also improve road conditions throughout the city, Public Works Director Craig Sively said.

The proposal, which goes into great detail on the causes of road deterioration, puts much of the blame on cut-and-patch asphalt projects, where road contractors cut away strips of asphalt to work on underground pipes.

Under the plan, once water and sewer pipes have been replace, new roads will be laid down stretching from curb to curb. In addition, a five-year moratorium on cut-and-patch road projects will be set, thus reducing road deterioration.

When cut-and-patch projects do take place, they will require large sections of the road to be resurfaced, and sometimes the entire road width from curb to curb will have to be replaced, according to the proposal.

Sively noted that deteriorating roads are the number one complaint from people who live and work here.

"Most of us would argue that they need to do this," Monacelli said, referring to the city. Then he added, "If there is agreement that most of our infrastructure is in need of repair, then what are we waiting for? For the prices to go up?"

Baker Boyer Bank Vice President and Senior Financial Advisor Lynn Foust said she also appreciates the economic advantages of improving Walla Walla’s roads.

"You can’t go anywhere in town without seeing all the potholes. You hate to see that deterioration," Foust said. But the bank vice president is also the chairmen of the board of Helpline, an organization that often qualifies families for assistance from their programs and other organizations, such as St. Vincent De Paul.

"Looking at it from the low-income side, that is a huge responsibility. And I don’t think a lot of families are going to be able to meet that demand," Foust said.

The city is also undecided if it should back the Public Works Department plan as is. New City Manager Nabiel Shawa, who started Oct. 19, is currently reviewing the Infrastructure Sustainability Plan, Director of Support Services Tim McCarty said.

"We have some options. There are some we haven’t come up with yet. And we are trying to be respectful with the feedback that we have gotten," McCarty said, noting that the city manager was unavailable for comment because he was moving this weekend.

But McCarty added, "At the same time, we are not hearing from people you should not do these repairs. People are very aware of what we are trying to do. It’s trying to find the way that is the least burdensome to people."

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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