- Tom Silva
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America’s states are under water in more ways than one. This writer got a close-up view of how our aging infrastructure is being taxed by the elements. A summer storm that brought as much as eight inches of rain in just two hours in the wee hours of Saturday, July 24 wreaked havoc in Chicago’s near western suburbs as streets, viaducts and even condominium garages flooded with dirty water when overfilled sewers backed up. Mine was among them.
One of the hardest hit communities was my home of Forest Park, IL, a diverse suburb of approximately 15,000 just west of the more famous Oak Park and best known for its Irish bars and many cemeteries. Although President Obama has declared Cook and seven other Illinois counties as federal disaster areas because of the storm and flood, the federal money likely won’t solve Forest Park’s problem of outdated storm sewers that cannot handle rainfalls such as the one that occurred on July 24. At a recent meeting with Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mayor Tony Calderone and Village Administrator Tim Gillian said that flood-ravaged Forest Park needs a minimum of $60 million to make necessary upgrades to the storm sewer system. “The Village of Forest Park will never have $60 million to do a project like that,” Gillian said. Calderone noted that the $60 million figure came from a 2000 study by village engineers. The project would now likely cost $70 million. “This is a complex issue, with no simple answer. That improvement would take the temporary burden off of one half of the system. If the pipes downstream could not handle any more water, then the water would still back up here,” Calderone said in a reference to public dissatisfaction about the projected 2019 completion date for the area’s Deep Tunnel project.
One possibility for small suburbs like Forest Park is the proposed U. S. infrastructure bonds, a vehicle designed to finance public works. Richard Keston of the Keston Institute for Public Finance and Infrastructure Policy (part of the University of Southern California), said “I don’t see anyone having a sustainable (funding) model in place for general government, let alone infrastructure. Why not create a vehicle where the federal government could issue infrastructure bonds?” Debt associated with a national infrastructure investment fund would be backed by fee revenues from projects undertaken by state and local governments.