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Rob Puentes

Addressing the Press: Rob Puentes

By Carla Wilson
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To build a better city, government leaders must think smarter and create better ways of strengthening intra-city infrastructure and modes of transit. Transportation is not just about people moving from one place to the other.  According to Brookings Institution Fellow Robert Puentes, it’s about “maximizing investments” and providing people with an efficient transit system that allows for economic growth as well as social equity and mobility.  

Puentes knows a thing or two about infrastructure. He heads up the Brookings’ Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative, where he delves into the transit problems of 100 of the largest metropolitan cities. Puentes’ team focuses on three areas:  The economy, social equality and mobility and the built environment, namely a transit system that is both functional and accessible.  

According to Puentes, there is currently a $3 trillion infrastructure deficit, which presents fiscal challenges not easily solved. With little to no help from the federal government, it is up to local leadership to invest in an infrastructure that works, all the while making the most of those investments by developing areas surrounding the transit systems. Although the Obama administration has been more forthcoming about infrastructure issues in the U.S. than past administrations, Puentes believes the time is right for local government to take the lead in infrastructure investment.  

On March 10th, Puentes visited the UNLV campus and spoke with faculty and students about future systems in Las Vegas, including the light rail and monorail, which have the potential to bring economic vitality to the city by connecting the airport to the Strip. With ballot measures that take these initiatives to the voting booth, cities in the West have a real chance at Infrastructure success, much like Dallas, Houston and Denver, where intra-metro transport is flourishing.

Population growth demands an efficient infrastructure. The challenge, says Puentes is to “move away from mobility to economic accessibility,” and make it equitable for the low income and the elderly.  “Metropolitan cities must be healthy, vital and functioning,” says Puentes.  

The vitality of cities depends entirely upon local leadership “moving faster” and capitalizing on taxpayer dollars. In Las Vegas, that means utilizing what’s already here—a monorail that can change economic accessibility and social equality for thousands of people. Although on-demand transport services like Uber are changing the landscape, equitable transport services need to be available to those who are in most need of them, specifically the elderly and poor.

According to Puentes, congestion problems in metropolitan cities like Los Angeles should not be the main focus with regards to infrastructure development. With cities like Denver planning decades ahead, it’s important that governors and city officials make accessibility a priority while recognizing these cities are the “engine of their economy,” says Puentes.

When it comes to planning and investment the federal government appears to be more of an obstacle, and although transport legislation passed in Washington last December, the federal government won’t be coming to the aid of cities in the near future. “I don’t see the federal government doing anything that helpful anytime soon,” says Puentes. “We’ve got to move faster on the local level and work with elected leadership.” To help Las Vegas move faster, the Brookings Institution has consulted with the Regional Transportation Commission about the light rail and monorail transit projects as well as advised officials in best practices and wise market investments.

With smart planning, major metropolitan areas like Las Vegas have a chance to compete and thrive economically. Without the impediment of Washington bureaucracy, local leaders can take on infrastructure obstacles via the ballot box and allow voters to invest in urban development, social mobility and economic accessibility. “There is a great climate right now for innovation,” Puentes said.

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