Congress needs to stop ignoring the repairs backlog at national parks

When household budgets are tight, people tend to put off expensive maintenance projects. So a leaky roof gets patched instead of replaced, or paint is left to peel for a season or two or three longer than a homeowner (not to mention the neighbors) would like.

Government agencies do the same thing. And now, after years of putting off less-crucial repairs because of insufficient funding, the National Park Service has an $11.5 billion backlog of deferred maintenance projects — about four times the department’s annual operating budget (and part of a $159 billion overall federal backlog). About half of the parks backlog involves roads and bridges, and the rest covers wastewater treatment plants, buildings, water systems, campgrounds and other facilities.

That’s an astounding amount of work, and while it’s not as popular with park users as habitat restoration, it’s crucial for ensuring public safety and the quality of the parks themselves. Fortunately, Congress’s recent budget nearly doubles the money —to $116.3 million — for projects deemed by the Park Service to be critical for the well-being of visitors and workers, or for environmental restoration. The new five-year highway transportation bill also includes $1.4 billion for roads and bridges in national parks. While the increased spending is good news for the parks and those who visit them, it’s far less than what’s required to address the need.

To leave these maintenance issues unresolved just sets the stage for more expensive fixes down the road.

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