America’s infrastructure craze should start with Pullman and other Midwestern national parks

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President Biden says he wants to invest extra $ 579 billion in highways, bridges, railways and alternative energies as part of its massive infrastructure renewal proposal.

Here’s where the president should start: in cities in the heart of America, like Chicago, and their neighboring national parks. It’s a region lagging behind in job creation and income growth. He could take advantage of the economic surge.

For northern industrial cities like Chicago, Scranton and Gary that are gateways to national parks, an effective way to leverage new federal infrastructure funding would be to link the needs of these cities to deferred maintenance projects. neighboring parks.

Our national parks have a $ 12 billion deferred maintenance book. Dangerous roads and crumbling bridges are common at virtually all of the 423 national park sites, according to a recent National Park Service report. In response, Congress stepped up last year to restore parks through the Great American Outdoors Act. So Biden already has the money to implement a major infrastructure initiative – one for national parks.

Working hand in hand in this effort, the United States. The Department of Transportation could target initial infrastructure upgrades in communities that are gateways to national parks. By combining renewal programs for the parks with infrastructure upgrades for the communities adjacent to the parks, NPS and DOT could get more for their money.

In Chicago, renovations to the Pullman National Monument require more than $ 13 million worth of building and grounds improvements.

The first planned industrial community in the United States, Pullman was the site of two historic labor events that helped shape the labor movement in the country. Violent wage strikes broke out in 1894, pitting the Pullman company, which made luxury sleeper cars, against the American Railway Union.

Decades later, in 1937, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters won the first major labor agreement in the United States that benefited African Americans. In one article written for an NPS publication, Alesha Cerny called the agreement “one of the most important markers since the Reconstruction towards African-American independence of racist paternalism”.

As the National Park Service pursues an environmentally friendly restoration of historic Pullman, perhaps the Department of Transportation could fund a series of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations along Interstates 94 and 57 and other roads leading to Pullman. This action would attract electric vehicle drivers, who are always on the lookout for gas stations. Tourism on the south side of Chicago, including at the Pullman National Monument, would be boosted, while air quality would be improved at the Pullman site and throughout the community of the Gateway to Greater Chicago National Park. .

Elsewhere in the Midwest, Indiana Dunes National Park needs $ 27.8 million to repair infrastructure. Restoration of NPS resources in the park could be complemented by federal transportation assistance for the Bicycle and pedestrian plan project in Gary, Indiana. Improvements could reduce bicycle accidents and provide a clean way of getting around the city.

In the future, DOT may encourage an extension of the Gary Bike Path to Indiana Dunes National Park. This would give urban residents access to the park’s 15-mile Lake Michigan shoreline. DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg, a strong supporter of bicycle use and safety, might see the Gary-to-National Park bike path extension as a model for the rest of the country.

Why not launch President Biden’s infrastructure initiative where it’s needed most – in America’s industrial heartland? It could bring together national parks and their entry towns to initiate the crucial renewal of environmental, historical and transport infrastructure. It would also promote the necessary investments in clean energy modes of transport such as rail, bicycle and electric vehicles.

A number of national parks may finally reach their full potential as underprivileged communities in park gateway cities flex their muscles to rebuild themselves. In a post-COVID world, the winning formula of this plan could help our nation become vibrant and secure again.

A national parks volunteer, John Plonski is a former city manager and executive of Pennsylvania State Parks and Forests.

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