As negotiations continue in D.C. and discussions are happening in coffee shops and offices across the country, the time is right to highlight strategic federal infrastructure investments that will ensure resilient communities and lasting prosperity — for Maine and the nation.

We are encouraged by the bipartisan infrastructure agreement negotiated within the U.S. Senate with Maine’s Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King at the forefront, and then with the Biden administration.

However, several smart growth components of the original American Jobs Plan Act that will address climate change, cultural inequities, and locally led economic initiatives are worth inclusion in this or a second bill.

GrowSmart Maine urges our congressional delegation to support investments in:

• Creating a 21st-century transportation system. Roads and bridges should include a “fix it right” strategy before we build more, with safety of all users in mind — especially cyclists and pedestrians. Improve access to transit in both urban and rural areas to ensure mobility for all. Increase electric vehicle charging infrastructure to effectively move us beyond fossil fuel-based options.

• Providing redress of historic land use inequities, advancing racial equity and environmental justice, and promoting affordable access for all users. For decades, exclusionary zoning laws – like minimum lot sizes, mandatory parking requirements, and prohibitions on multifamily housing – have inflated housing and construction costs and locked lower-income families out of areas with more opportunities. Offering incentives so communities can right these past wrongs is an essential piece of any infrastructure proposal.

• Designing smart, coordinated permitting that expedites federal decisions while prioritizing stakeholder engagement, community consultation, and maximizing equity, health, and environmental benefits will save money and result in better outcomes.

• Making our infrastructure more resilient by reducing the impacts of the climate crisis. Safeguarding critical infrastructure and services, and defending vulnerable communities includes maximizing land and water resources to protect and, where necessary, restore nature-based infrastructure – our lands, forests, wetlands, watersheds, and coastal and ocean resources.

• Providing for redevelopment of abandoned real property through investments in Brownfield and Superfund sites to bring new physical, social, and civic infrastructure to communities. This includes “Main Street” revitalization efforts through HUD and USDA as well as proposals that address the affordable housing crisis by building, preserving, and retrofitting homes and commercial buildings, creating a pathway for more families to buy a home and start building wealth.

• Supporting the Community Revitalization Fund so innovative, community-led redevelopment projects can spark new economic activity, provide services and amenities, build community wealth, and close the current gaps in access to the innovation economy for communities of color and for rural communities that have suffered from years of disinvestment.

• Supporting the Rural Partnership Program to help rural regions, including Tribal Nations, build on their unique assets and realize their vision for inclusive community and economic development. This program supports locally led planning and capacity building efforts and provides flexible funding to meet critical needs.

• Supporting the broadband infrastructure essential to modern life in a way that aligns with protecting a sense of place and ensuring that expensive sprawling growth is avoided through appropriate land use planning strategies.

With these investments included in a federal infrastructure bill, our nation will take communities to the next level of opportunity and resilience at a time when extreme climate events and a rapidly evolving economy are straining existing infrastructure. Let’s not miss this moment.

Nancy E. Smith, executive director of GrowSmart Maine, lives in Monmouth.


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