Frustrated by gridlock at the federal level, major cities are increasingly taking it upon themselves to pay for massive infrastructure projects.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D) is pushing for an August ballot initiative that would increase the sales tax to finance an expansion of light rail. Historically, he said, a city like Phoenix could count on the federal government to pick up 75  to 80 percent of the cost. He’s working on the assumption that they will only put forward about 30 percent – “if we’re lucky.”

“Mayors around the country realize that the relationship between our cities and Congress in Washington, D.C., is broken and it’s not probably going back to the old days anytime soon,” he said during The Washington Post’s “America Answers” forum Tuesday, which focused on powering cities.

“If we’re going to build infrastructures in our city, we have to be much more self-reliant. Look in the mirror and do it,” he added. “We can sit around and complain about it. We can whine about it. Or we can lead.”

During a 25-minute conversation, Stanton said the best thing Congress can do to help cities in the short-term is to pass a transportation funding bill before money runs out on July 31. A bipartisan group of senators introduced a six-year bill this week that would boost overall spending, but its prospects are uncertain before the August recess.

“Those of us that watch Washington just can’t believe what we’ve seen in terms of letting the highway trust fund get near bankruptcy level and the unwillingness to invest in transportation in this country,” Stanton said. “Cities have to come to terms with the new reality. We wish we didn’t.”

Phoenix is becoming increasingly urban, and Stanton wants to plan for the long term and to prepare for climate change.

“Statewide, it’s definitely a hard sell,” he said, noting that Arizona is a Republican-leaning state. “Whether people conveniently or otherwise may not want to believe in climate change, it’s real … and we better get on top of it.”