Bipartisan infrastructure bill would cut Illinois’ flood risk: op-ed – Crain’s Chicago Business

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The devastation of Hurricane Ida, along with numerous flooding and severe weather events across Illinois this year, come as a painful reminder that communities must be proactive in planning, responding and building for a future with more risk.

Flooding has now outpaced other natural disasters as the most common and costliest we face. Our communities see ruined homes, shuttered businesses, impassible roads and highways, and disruptions to supply chains.

That is why it is important that the U.S. Senate recently took action by passing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

This bipartisan legislation makes a historic commitment toward improving the ability of the nation’s infrastructure, such as its roads and bridges, to withstand flooding while also supporting local programs designed to improve flood resilience.

There are a number of critical items in this legislation that would benefit Illinois. For one, the creation of a new $8.7 billion transportation resilience grant program to support local actions that reduce the vulnerability of roads, bridges and other transportation assets to natural disasters. It’s a fiscally smart proposal, because it’s cheaper to build infrastructure right the first time than to constantly repair damage.

Another common sense move is putting decision-making back in the hands of the people who know what they need best: local communities. The infrastructure bill would create incentives for local organizations to address future risk in long-term transportation plans.

The Senate bill also incorporates nature-based solutions. As we experience stronger storms and more rainfall, we are seeing a rise in erosion, overwhelmed storm sewers and waterways filled beyond capacity. Rain gardens, bioswales, wetlands and living shorelines are often cheaper to implement and repair, and are just as impactful toward reducing flooding as hardened infrastructure such as steel and concrete bulkheads. 

Lastly, an area of deep concern is homes that repeatedly flood. These risky homes put people in harm’s way, challenge our first responders and in the end cost all of us because we all pay for recovery through taxes. That’s why the Senate legislation includes an additional $4.5 billion in FEMA disaster programs to support local efforts to help residents move into safer homes and fund other flood prevention measures like floodproofing basements, building higher floodwalls and right-sizing storm sewers. 

The infrastructure we build today needs to last into the next century—and that means it has to be built to withstand a future of worsening weather. The infrastructure bill makes progress toward better preparing us all for these threats.

Dallas Alley is director of land use and development for the city of Fairview Heights and recipient of the 2015 Illinois Floodplain Manager of the Year Award.