GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — During a recent week in her 6th Congressional District, Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro) said she spent time talking with the mayors and other officials from Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point about infrastructure dollars and their needs.
Manning said in a Zoom interview Friday with WGHP that each of them has a priority list and that her goal was to help see how dollars being doled from the recently passed $1 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could be used to meet those needs.
The bill is designed to address what many call the “crumbling” underpinnings of public travel, safety and opportunity by providing dollars to repair problems, enhance climate change and connect communication systems where there are gaps.
“We now are getting from the different government agencies whole lists of the grants that would be available,” Manning said. “So I spent time in the district last week [two weeks ago] talking to the mayors of our cities and heads of transportation and city managers, talking with them about the opportunities they will have to file for grants.”
She mentioned the topics that are commonly discussed, such as repairing those roads and bridges and ensuring clean drinking water. But there also are dollars to expand broadband to fill gaps that exist across North Carolina and to create charging stations for electric vehicles.
The process already has begun. In December, Piedmont Triad International Airport learned it would receive more than $5 million in a grant from the FAA. That same program delivered more than $91.5 million to airports across North Carolina, including $295,000 each for Davidson Airport in Lexington, Wilkes County Airport in North Wilkesboro and Smith Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem; $159,000 to Asheboro Regional, Elkin Municipal Mount Airy/Surry Airport and Rockingham County NC Shiloh; and $110,000 for Montgomery County Airport.
In late January, the Appalachian Development Highway System, which touches on the mountainous parts of the Triad, was given $16.1 million to complete its portion of the 3,090-mile linked system across the region.
Manning said city officials had ready lists of their needs, but she hasn’t met with the other cities in her district, which includes all of Guilford County and the area in Forsyth County including and surrounding Winston-Salem.
“The big three all had good ideas about the projects that are most important,” she said, “the things that we need for public safety, the things that we need to make our cities more equitable, make sure we can get people to jobs, make sure we can attract the good jobs. There are so many opportunities to apply for grants that are out there.”
Manning’s comments came just a few days after a bridge collapsed on a busy thoroughfare in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and dropped several vehicles onto a jogging trail in a city park. There were no deaths and no significant injuries, but the images generated a lot of fear about how and when such a tragedy could emerge (as it did in 2007 on I-35W in Minneapolis-St. Paul).
Manning said the state and cities had lists of roads and bridges that need to be repaired. “Fortunately didn’t hear anybody talk about something where they were experiencing such a calamity [as in Pittsburgh],” she said. “That was terrifying.”
What about drinking water?
But Greensboro has had issues with its drinking water. An industrial compound known as Per- and Poly-fluoroalkyls that includes the fire retardant PFOS in recent years contaminated parts of the water supply near Piedmont Triad International Airport.
A plume of PFOS – and its relative PFOA – which are long-lasting and can contaminate the soil, was found to have originated in Greensboro and traveled down the waterways all the way to Wilmington, which has had its own issues with factory discharges.
The city of Greensboro in 2019 drafted $31 million plan to address the issue and then put it on hold. Officials said last summer they were ready to begin the process.
Manning her conversations about cleaning up the water supply began with lead pipes, but the bill does include dollars to address PFOS and PFOA.
“We don’t want what happened in Flint, Michigan, [where lead poisoning was found rampant in the city’s water supply] to happen in our area,” she said. “All officials said we don’t have a problem with lead pipes. We want to ensure that the water flowing into those pipes is appropriately clean.”
Internet access issues
Another area Manning talked about “cleaning up” was access to broadband, which she said had significant impact on not only remote learning for students but also health care and small businesses.
“There are areas of the district where … you can’t connect because broadband doesn’t go out there,” she said. “And there are areas where there is broadband but where people just can’t afford to pay for connection to the internet. There are funds in this bill to address both issues.”
She said education officials are focusing on the impact that the absence of internet presence causes for students even when there is no pandemic requiring them to stay home, but there also is a great focus on the value of telemedicine.
“Telemedicine was not used that much prior to this pandemic,” Manning said. “A lot of physicians who didn’t think it was going to be effective have totally changed their minds.
“And telemedicine is something that is used not only in rural areas where they don’t have access to health care providers, but it’s also used in urban areas. … For someone who would have to take two buses to get to their health care provider, being able to do that kind of checkup by telemedicine saves an enormous amount of time and also helps ensure that people will actually have those visits with their doctors.”
Ditto for small businesses and their customers.
“Something like 98% of businesses in our district are small businesses,” he said. “So when you have small businesses that can’t connect with the internet, that’s a real disadvantage to those companies.”