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Infrastructure investment sparks optimism among public service workers

Vehicles pass through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
Infrastructure investment sparks optimism among public service workers
Infrastructure investment sparks optimism among public service workers
Kevin Gross (Member-provided photo)

You may not realize it on your drive to work, but keeping our roads and bridges safe takes an army of skilled, seasoned public service workers. They are people like Maryland’s Kevin Gross, a member of AFSCME Council 3 (Local 1606), who brings 15 years’ experience to ensuring that your commute is not only a safe one, but is as pleasant as it can be. 

While we might be more focused on our favorite podcast or radio show, Gross, a facility maintenance technician for the Maryland Department of Transportation, has his mind on other things. On any given day, he and his crew are making sure that traffic signs and alerts are working and visible; that traffic’s being properly rerouted around lane closures; that bridges are being inspected and traffic patterns adjusted accordingly.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“Say an accident happens on a bridge,” explains Gross, who says bridges are the most important entity in a roadway. “Traffic gets backed up. That bridge incurs a lot of weight. We have to maintain the bridge’s coils and suspension. We have to make sure the bridge is on a consistent level so surprises don’t pop up on those roadways.”

Winters find Gross checking roads to make sure they’re passable and clear to salt. In the spring and summer, he’s paring back trees, shrubs and weeds so signs can be read and sightlines are clear. Drainage, something we might never consider, is a crucial piece of the puzzle Gross must solve.

It’s a difficult job (this summer, a Council 3 member from the Maryland State Highway Administration was killed on the job) that puts him face-to-face with our country’s infrastructure – an infrastructure that has been long neglected.

But that’s about to change.

Thanks to President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act, which the president signed in November, our country will soon see a once-in-a generation investment in its infrastructure, and public service workers like Gross will get the kind of federal support they’ve long sought.

While Department of Transportation workers like Gross will benefit from the $110 billion in new funding for roads, bridges and other major projects, the bill, which AFSCME members helped pass, also provides tens of billions of dollars to upgrade or improve our drinking water, railways, airports, broadband and more. Read what’s in the bill here.

Gross describes how a major investment in our infrastructure will help public service workers like him.

“It’s a ripple effect. It’s like dominoes,” says Gross. Biden’s infrastructure plan will “create a plethora of effects that overflow in a positive way.”

One example: equipment.

“We don’t always get the equipment we deserve,” says Gross, “and the equipment always needs repair. The equipment has a lot of stress on it and it’s constantly being worked. These trucks run a lot of miles.”

Proper investment in equipment not only leads to better and faster maintenance of our infrastructure, but it improves the lives of the workers who operate it, according to Gross. Having to use outdated equipment on aging infrastructure can affect the morale of workers who lack the tools to do the jobs they’ve dedicated their careers to.

“When there’s a revitalization period” as there is now, with Biden’s focus on infrastructure and the passage of IIJA, “you’re reinvigorated to do the work.”

The domino effect continues.

“You’re also helping the motorists travel well through their work day,” says Gross. “If you can help make the roadway a pleasant ride, you increase the quality of life of people.”

Beefed up staffing that the bill will bring will also allow these workers to do their jobs more effectively.

Public service workers are people “who pride themselves on doing a good job,” he says. They deserve the bold infrastructure investment our country will soon enjoy.

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