By Justin Wallin.

“This is NOT A Drill,” Northern California emergency personnel blared in February, as they ordered the evacuation of 200,000 people caught in the flood path of the failing Oroville Dam.

The state may have averted disaster in Oroville, but the need to repair our crumbling infrastructure remains, and is no less urgent. From roads and bridges, to dams and levees, California’s infrastructure is in crisis and demands a serious investment.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card, California’s long list of infrastructure repairs includes:

  • 1,388 structurally deficient bridges
  • 678 high hazard dams
  • 98 hazardous waste sites on the National Priorities List
  • 97,917 miles of public roads in poor condition

The cause of our infrastructure crisis is no secret. For too long, Californians have deferred maintenance and delayed necessary investments in our infrastructure. An analysis by Visual Capitalist rated California as the worst state in the nation for infrastructure spending. The League of California Cities estimates that $70 billion is needed over the next decade to bring local streets and roads up to proper working order.

“We’ve known for a long time that we’re grossly underinvesting in maintaining and upgrading our water infrastructure,” Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank, recently told the San Jose Mercury News. “California built a remarkable water system in the 20th century, and it’s aging.”

But it now appears the state has achieved the political will to do something about it.

The California Department of Water is busy at work on $275 million in emergency repairs to the Oroville Dam. Governor Jerry Brown, whose Department of Transportation formally renounced the state’s freeway system plan in 1975, secured the Legislature’s approval for his $52 billion plan to fix the state’s roads. There’s even optimism that the Trump administration could supply funding for “the state’s 100-billion wish list of infrastructure projects.”

California has achieved more progress on infrastructure in four months than in the previous four decades.

Now, on the local level, California’s cities and counties can also seize the moment, educating residents that “This is NOT A Drill to reinforce a sense of urgency towards investing in local infrastructure.

Momentum like this is rare, and local agencies can build on this spotlight on infrastructure to mobilize public support for the investments needed in every neighborhood and community. Cities and counties are uniquely positioned to work collaboratively to shape the public narrative on infrastructure to better prioritize local initiatives and to even identify funding opportunities.

Now is the time, and to do it right, government agencies require an accurate roadmap.

Quality opinion-research helps:

  • Assess awareness of, and satisfaction with infrastructure and related programs and services
  • Determine community prioritization of infrastructure and related programs and services
  • Quantify receptivity to various methods of funding potential infrastructure projects
  • Test assumptions and develop strategic message points to maximize outreach expenditures and develop public acceptance of strategic projects and potential revenue measures
  • Profile results by demographic measures critical to targeted outreach and education efforts
  • Establish a roadmap for how best to design communications

We know the problem. We can identify the path to success. Only one question remains: Will local agencies seize the moment to deliver meaningful infrastructure solutions for California communities?

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Justin Wallin is CEO of J. Wallin Opinion Research, a national opinion research firm with business, political and government clients.