“Federal infrastructure spending tends to make cities poorer not wealthier because, while the federal government may pay the initial cost to build a new highway or bridge, it’s local governments that take on the long-term maintenance liabilities, often going into enormous amounts of debt to do so.”

Chuck Marohn, Strong Towns

Let’s be clear, the state of Maryland is not going to build a multi-billion dollar bridge to help the Kent County economy. They would be better off just giving millions to each person and call it a day.

So let’s ask the question, what if Kent County does not get a bridge? What if the study determines a landing point south of the current bridge would have a better impact than one to the north (Kent County)? Or what if they determine a no build is the best plan and instead invest in other less expensive ways of reducing traffic? What would we then do to help our economic development?

To start, invest in what we already have.

Small businesses can be underappreciated and under-supported,” writes Quint Studer of Strong Towns. “After all, when a downtown is filled with cool coffee shops, locally owned restaurants, microbreweries, and quirky boutiques—together with plenty of strong non-retail players like architects, ad agencies, and attorneys—that downtown is often the heart and soul of a vibrant community.”

We should be finding investments to make what we already have stronger whether it be support for locally owned businesses, housing, schools, outdoor recreation, transportation, agriculture, etc. Numerous studies show that when communities invest in their local businesses, those businesses then invest in the communities that support them. In turn, as Studer explains, “It creates that sense of “place” that attracts tourists, young people and a talented workforce, and yes, bigger businesses and other investors who drive further growth.”

Good news:  Kent County already has a sense of place. If we can make multiple small local investments without relying on massive infrastructure project that would not even see completion for more than a decade, we can find immediate solutions and growth. We can make small incremental investments now by observing how our current infrastructure does not work and find creative ways to fix it. We can invest in our residents by asking what they need and finding small steps to helpful solutions.

Here are some ideas from Strong Towns founder Chuck Marohn:

“We’re talking about things like putting in street trees, painting crosswalks, patching sidewalks, and making changes to zoning regulations to provide more flexibility for neighborhood businesses, accessory apartments and parking. If we try some things and they don’t work, we don’t lose much because they don’t cost much. We learn from our small failures and try something else”

That said, what if we get that bridge and it turns Kent County into a suburb of Baltimore and we lose that sense of place? I know the county has strong zoning laws, but what if our local businesses close because residents can drive to Baltimore for all their needs? There are so many unknowns on top of the major costs for such a project.

Let us improve what we have before we build a bridge from which there is no return.

Owen Bailey, Chestertown MD