SACRAMENTO – On the highway over Teton Pass in Wyoming, avalanches have threatened motorists since the 1960s. In Washington and Oregon, drivers live with the daily awareness that during a major earthquake, the bridge between Vancouver and Portland is likely to collapse. In California, people are increasingly at the mercy of wildfires and runaway mega-droughts – and their stratospheric costs.
The list of things to do in the United States has been going on for years, long before President Biden and a bipartisan committee of Congress agreed to a historic upgrade to the country’s aging infrastructure this year. On Friday, the measure – suspended for months amid negotiations over some $ 2 trillion in other spending – was finally passed.
“It’s a game changer,” said Mark Poloncarz, the Erie County executive in New York City. âRight off the bat, I have about $ 150 million worth of capital projects that we could move, from the introduction of our sewage treatment system in the 20th century to smaller bridges, some of which have 100 years.”
Mark Weitenbeck, treasurer of the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers and retired Milwaukee suburb, celebrated the potential expansion of rail service: âWhile we did nothing, the Chinese built 20,000 miles of rail line in great speed.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement, “President Biden understands the critical need to build a climate resilient future.” He added that the new funding “will strengthen our clean transportation infrastructure, help mitigate some of the worst impacts of climate change and accelerate new projects that will create thousands of jobs.”
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the leader of the minority, had urged Republicans to oppose the bill, and Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the minority whip, warned that the spending “will induce more. inflation “. But 13 House Republicans have crossed party lines to help pass the measure.
And Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Republican and president of the National Governors Association, praised Congress “for putting aside partisan differences to pass a bill that works for the American people.”
With nearly $ 600 billion in federal assistance to improve highways, bridges, dams, transit, railways, ports, airports, water quality and broadband over 10 years, the legislation is a unique opportunity to overhaul the country’s public. work system. And this offers a rare opportunity for states that for decades have been forced to balance huge backlogs of short-term repairs and upgrades against larger, longer-term projects and needs.
Federal spending, while less generous than that initially proposed by President Biden, is still immense in every way. According to the White House, transportation aid alone is the largest federal investment in transit history and the largest federal investment in passenger rail transportation since Amtrak was created in 1971.
Some $ 110 billion will be allocated to roads, bridges and other major surface transportation projects. An additional $ 66 billion will go to rail freight and passengers, including enough money to clear Amtrak’s maintenance backlog. Another $ 39 billion will be used to modernize public transit, and another $ 11 billion will be earmarked for transportation safety, including programs to reduce the number of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities.
Broadband systems will receive an injection of $ 65 billion, as will investments to rebuild the power grid to refurbish power lines and accommodate renewable energy sources. A common fund of $ 55 billion would expand access to drinking water. Some $ 25 billion would go to airports and $ 17 billion to ports.
Government agencies will determine which projects are funded, but certain state priorities were written into the bill during negotiations.
For example, several provisions benefit Alaska, of which Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, was a key member of the bipartisan group of senators who helped craft the legislation. The bill includes $ 250 million for a pilot program to develop an electric or low-emission ferry that would almost certainly go to his state, which has the most miles of sea highway.
Another billion dollar program will fund a ferry system to reach rural communities like those in Alaska; the bill allows it to be operated and maintained with federal highway money. And other parts of the bill will pay to repair more than 140 bridges, as well as more than 300 miles of the highway that runs across the border to Alaska and into Canada.
West Virginia Senators Joe Manchin III, a Democrat, and Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, also helped draft legislation, which includes a $ 2 billion rural grants program that is expected to channel funding towards the Appalachian road network. One section of this system, Corridor H – intended to connect Interstate 79 in north-central West Virginia to Interstate 81 in Virginia – has remained unfinished for more than half a century, but now goes get off to a good start. The bill also injects more than $ 11 billion into a program to clean up toxic leaks from abandoned coal mines, a business estimated at at least $ 2 billion in West Virginia alone.
Most of the time, however, legislation will address public works challenges that have long compromised states’ political and financial capacity to meet them. Experts predicted it would reshape priorities across the country and boost critical projects.
New Jersey, for example, could tap into the new funds to help build the proposed Gateway Tunnel, alleviating chronic congestion on the rail line that connects population centers across the state to New York. Almost a decade after Hurricane Sandy flooded the tunnel to New York City causing structural damage, progress has stalled as repairs amount to $ 13 billion.
Along the Gulf Coast, Louisiana officials are considering funding a long-studied rail line between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. In the Pacific Northwest, where the Interstate 5 connecting Oregon and Washington On the Columbia River at risk of collapsing in a major earthquake, the spending could help settle years of political disagreement and fund a new, more resilient structure with space for bike paths and pedestrians.
In Michigan, the bill will inject a record $ 1 billion into a ten-year program to restore and protect the Great Lakes, where drinking water and wildlife have been compromised by pollution. In Wyoming, where the threat of avalanches annually closes Wyoming Highway 22 through the mountains, hampering commercial traffic, this could help fund a tunnel through the Teton Pass.
The legislation also offers a vital lifeline for states and cities struggling to reduce greenhouse gas pollution in the face of increasing disruption from climate change. In the Northeast, $ 7.5 billion in funding for zero and low emission buses and ferries could help Connecticut and New Jersey electrify municipal bus fleets. A loan program in the bill will also help local governments in states like Michigan put in place projects to reduce risk and damage from extreme flooding and shoreline erosion.
Other parts of the legislation will address long-standing equity and civic design issues created by old highway projects, which divide many cities, level historic homes and monuments, and deepen reliance on it. of the car and segregation. In Minnesota, he could advance a project to redevelop the I-94 corridor between St. Paul and Minneapolis, reconnecting neighborhoods cut off from each other in the 1960s. And in Connecticut, it could boost projects to help unite sections of Hartford and East Hartford that were fractured over 60 years ago by highways.
Few states, however, are likely to feel the impact of the measure as widely as California, where 40 million people depend on highways, aqueducts, dikes, dams, and other engineering feats to maintain their way of life.
Parched by the mega-drought and scorched by massive forest fires, the state has injected billions of dollars in recent years into water conservation, forest clearing, firefighting and energy initiatives renewable. Federal money, state officials said, would bolster that push.
A pot of over $ 8 billion for Western water projects, for example, includes billions for water recycling systems and groundwater storage, critical to California’s conservation efforts. . More funding in the bill will help modernize aging dams and canals and possibly fund desalination projects.
Disaster funds to the extent will help mitigate the danger and impact of forest fires and other natural disasters, allowing the state, for example, to bury power lines in rural areas where sparks from old equipment has unleashed some of California’s most destructive hells. Federal funding will also be available to bring the salaries of federal wildland firefighters to par with the state’s much better paid fire crews, filling critical shortages of experienced crews in a state where most wild forests are found on federal lands.
The new federal money could also give a boost to the high-speed rail line California has been trying to build for a decade between its largest cities and its rural central valley. In recent years, the priority has been simply to complete an electrified road between Merced and Bakersfield. But with additional funding, state officials say they could expand to the Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin, connecting one of the state’s most economically depressed areas to major cities and towns. highest paying jobs.
A small part of the measure, however, has been particularly eagerly awaited in California: a $ 7.5 billion initiative to build a nationwide network of electric vehicle chargers. Although 40% of the nation’s electric vehicles are sold in California, sales are still lagging in part because car buyers worry that they won’t be able to charge easily on long car trips. So far, even long-range electric vehicles – Teslas, for example – lack the horsepower to travel 400 miles between San Francisco and Los Angeles without stopping for a charge.