Public Policy Forum Blog

Lead water pipe replacement a harbinger of larger local infrastructure challenges

A story in this morning's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel breaks the news that Milwaukee property taxpayers and individual property owners face a combined bill of more than $500 million to remove and replace lead pipes in the city's water system. The Forum hates to be the purveyor of more bad news, but we think that may be the tip of the iceberg.

Last September, we assembled public works leaders from the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, Waukesha County, and the State of Wisconsin to discuss the overall local government infrastructure challenges facing our region. As noted by Urban Milwaukee in its coverage of the event, when it comes not only to water pipes, but also to local roads, bridges, sewer mains, bike lanes, buildings, and parks, the "demands on the system are increasing…but future funding is limited."

Today's Journal Sentinel story amplifies the need for elected officials and the public to have a solid handle on the full range of local infrastructure investments required to keep citizens safe and our local economy humming, and how that collective obligation measures up to our capacity to pay for it. The Forum is engaged in a multi-part research project to do just that. Stay tuned for our first report in the series – on local transportation infrastructure – in late spring or early summer.      

Rob Henken