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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The nation's mayors are emphatic that this week's hotly debated infrastructure legislation— even if ultimately watered down — represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make cities more livable, modern and socially equitable.

Why it matters: While the money wouldn't go directly to city coffers, it would fund everything from bridge and road repairs to the development of light rail and broadband — bringing massive numbers of jobs and daily-living improvements along the way.

Where it stands: The nation's mayors have put on a full-court press to get the gargantuan bill passed, flying to Washington to lobby legislators and buttonholing their own state delegations.

  • In July, nearly 400 mayors signed a bipartisan letter exhorting congressional leadership to get the bill passed. Sent under the auspices of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, it called the legislation-in-progress "the largest long-term investment in our nation's infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century."
  • "We've been talking about this for a decade, but it just keeps getting kicked down the road without the funding," Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat and the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, tells Axios.
  • "So that water main break happens, or that bridge gets closed — that really affects everyday lives. It affects people's ability to move around and do commerce in cities."

On Friday, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Urban League held a press conference to make a last-ditch plea to Washington about how the legislation would uplift people of color and others who have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic.

  • "I talk to mayors every week. from all over the country, large cities and small, and there is no mayor in America who doesn't have a need for this infrastructure bill," Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan told Axios in a phone interview.
  • "We have so underfunded the needs of our country for decades now."

Context: The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, which President Biden signed in March, gave direct aid to cities, each of which knew exactly how much they were getting and could plan accordingly.

  • But most of that money went to recovering revenues lost during the pandemic, mayors said.
  • It allowed them to hire police officers, etc. after pandemic-related hiring freezes — but it didn't give them enough to fix bridges, roads and water pipes, which is part of what the forthcoming legislation will (ideally) facilitate.

In Seattle, where the West Seattle bridge was closed last year to avert disaster and a chunk of pier collapsed, the federal infrastructure infusion could jump-start projects that would avert such dramatic catastrophes.

In Austin, the money could boost Project Connect, a long-planned light rail system that would multiply car-free travel options.

In Oklahoma City, new funding for Amtrak could mean a rail connection to Kansas that would give residents life-altering new access to northern travel. (Right now, OKC-ers can only go south to Fort Worth on Amtrak.)

In Dayton, the long-delayed reconstruction of Salem Avenue — a major artery — could finally begin, as could the repair of antique water systems.

  • "There's a ton of deferment that's been going on about the repairing of pipes," Whaley says. "You can't just pass that along to the ratepayer, because it would be unaffordable."

The bottom line: The goodies in the bill that will make a difference to urban dwellers — like light rail systems that will make it faster for low-income people to commute to jobs, and broadband access that will enable people of all means to work and study from anywhere — won't happen right away, but they'll lead to lasting and permanent societal uplift, mayors say.

  • "Even though I know that my successors will probably be cutting the ribbons, I know that it's my responsibility to plant trees now so that my children will have shade," Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, a Republican, tells Axios.

Go deeper

Chronic flooding plagues Philadelphia's Cedar Park neighborhood

Intense flooding of Joey Brodsky's basement on Aug. 28. Image courtesy of Brodsky

West Philadelphia residents are pleading with the city to do something about the chronic flooding that has filled basements with water and caused thousands of dollars in damage to some homes.

What's happening: Multiple residents living around the intersection of 52nd St. and Whitby Ave. told Taylor they've been experiencing extensive flooding coming from their pipes since August, right before Hurricane Ida.

  • But flooding in the Cedar Park neighborhood has only become more frequent and intense since the storm.
  • "This is not only in major storms, and this water is not coming through my foundation," resident Dan Farell said. "It's coming through the city's pipes."

The new cold war panic

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The world has seen a power struggle between nuclear powers before, and has seen those countries inch closer to military conflict. But it's never before seen a cold war between two countries as interconnected — with each other and with the rest of the globe — as the U.S. and China.

Why it matters: Escalating antagonism between the world's two superpowers is likely to hinder global cooperation to fight climate change, divert resources to costly arms and tech races, complicate diplomacy for U.S. allies, and victimize Chinese and American citizens living in each other's countries.

Parkland shooting victims' families settle suit with school district

A makeshift memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2020. Photo: Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Families and survivors of a 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., reached a $25 million settlement in their lawsuit against the Broward County school district Monday, per the South Florida SunSentinel.

Why it matters: The deal was reached in the suit over the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High after the school district won a Florida Supreme Court ruling that could have capped damages at $300,000 in total without approval from the state legislature, AP notes.