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Opinion: Highway funding priorities should include making roads and bridges disaster-ready

Jo Anne Smiley
Clarksville Mayor Jo Anne Smiley (PROVIDED).

As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment.” That is a lesson that our federal government would do well to heed. All too often it seems Washington, DC prefers reactionary action to proactive prevention. The Flood of 2019 is a good example of this.

Disaster relief aid is deeply appreciated by our community. Yet, mitigating against disasters in the first place would be more cost-effective and sustainable for Clarksville and the federal government. We cannot afford  to be reactive when it comes to disaster management, for the sake of our rural communities, we need to become more proactive in our disaster prevention.

In our own small town of Clarksville, situated right alongside the Mississippi River, we have been battling rising waters for hundreds of years. Residents and volunteers routinely erect barriers and sandbag to save and preserve our historic town. It is a herculean effort every time. After the waters recede, damaged roads and streets require aid. This recurrent recovery process drains precious resources from our community every time, and everyone suffers for it.

The ripples effects are pretty obvious. When our roads are shut down, people can’t come to shop and stay here. Sales tax pays for the supplies to harden out town against the Mighty Mississippi.

We in Clarksville appreciate all the assistance we can get. When our elected officials visit they show our town so much compassion; however, I hope they never have to come back due to flooding. We can invest in pre-disaster mitigation to prevent these disasters.

For example, Governor Parson recently signed a budget that includes nearly half the funding needed to build a wall to protect our small town from flooding. This wall is an example of a preventative approach that could save millions of dollars and help revive and protect our town.

Yet, we can still do more to mitigate against these costly disasters. With so much damage to our roads and with the national infrastructure needing investment, it would make common sense to ensure pre-disaster mitigation funding within the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Aside from the human costs, damage to infrastructure is one of the worst effects of a disaster, which is why we need to support measures to build and improve our infrastructure to withstand natural disasters. We need to invest in our roads and bridges so that when—not if—disaster strikes, they will stay strong. This helps alleviate suffering communities and is good for the taxpayer. According to the National Institute of Building Sciences, every $1 spent on hazard mitigation yields $6 in future disaster savings cost. This is a commonsense approach to disaster management; spend a little today to save much more in the future.

We can empower state and local communities like ours to improve the resiliency of our infrastructure by creating a pre-disaster mitigation program in the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). This program could protect our communities while minimizing costs to the DOT. What makes this an ideal solution is that the pre-disaster funding would not create additional costs for the federal government.

Clarksville is just one small town that could be saved from Congress stepping up and making smart investments in America’s future. It is just wise policy-making to mitigate against disaster and all Americans should be aware of programs that protect their community and improve our infrastructure.