Leadership for the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC) praised the recent passing of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure authorization that the House of Representatives signed off on late last week, following the Senate doing the same over the summer, which now awaits President Biden’s signature before becoming official.
As previously reported, the legislation includes $550 billion in new spending on highways, bridges and other transport measures and represents the most significant investment in roads and bridges in 70 years.
Following the Senate vote, CAGTC Executive Director Elaine Nessle said that this historic investment in freight infrastructure comes at a critical time and will enable strategic investments necessary to improve the nation’s supply chain infrastructure and ensure it can meet the challenges and demands of tomorrow.
What’s more, in delivering on a long-held CAGTC priority, the legislation also establishes an Office of Multimodal Freight Infrastructure and Policy within the Department of Transportation. Following months of supply chain disruptions, this office stands to guide investments from a national, systems-wide perspective with an eye toward supply chain efficiency, safety and reliability.
“The office’s leadership on holistic freight policy and planning will have an immediate impact and support economic competitiveness in the years to come,” Nessle added.
And CAGTC President Leslie Blakey likened the feeling of a new long-term authorization finally being passed to a rock being pushed uphill for so long, which kept rolling back, finally staying at the top of the hill.
But that does not mean the work stops, she explained, not by any stretch.
“Just because we have a bill does not mean we can just flip on a switch, get the money going, and everything just happens, there is a process,” she told LM. “Some parts of the bill will happen more quickly, because there are already mechanisms in place to make that money flow fairly quickly.”
Working quickly will be imperative in getting things going, at a time when they are clearly needed, too.
For example, Blakey pointed to the various infrastructure-related competitive grant programs, which have different criteria than what is already in place, and are expected to take more time, as a rulemaking process will be needed.
“I don’t see DOT or any of the other affected departments lollygagging on this,” she said. “I think there will be a real push to see this money become available and opportunities for cities and states to apply. There are innovative programs and those are things in which processes need to be set up and I think that the White House is very eager to get things moving…I would not expect it to take a very long time.”
The Office of Multimodal Freight Infrastructure featured in the authorization is of keen interest to CAGTC, noted Blakey
“We are especially interested in this being and seeing a coordinated effort from the top of DOT looking at how it can best implement these freight programs and money needed for projects,” she said. “I think there will be a lot of dissecting of all of this…it was not like we did not know what was in there really before but now that it is real, I think there will be a lot of effort and analysis put into trying to look at all the different details of the provisions of the bill and get more concrete assessments of how the bill is going to affect the transformational projects that we need.”
In terms of the intersection of this authorization crossing the finish line and the concurrent supply chain issues, at the moment, Blakey opined that there are a whole host of moving parts requiring a watchful eye, with the cautious caveat that she is optimistic it is a sign of good things to come.
And she observed that it can be hard to separate out the different threads of the supply chain backlogs and bottlenecks.
“Some of it is operational in the form of container and chassis issues and being where they need to be,” she said. “There are also fixed infrastructure issues as well, which by the time we build new fixed infrastructure…. hopefully a lot of the current supply chain problems will have been smoothed out and we won’t have the same type of crises we have been seeing. But the next crisis is only a disruption away, too.”
That is key, she said, as these disruptions can have major negative impacts on the economy and present what she called a need to smooth out the kinks, pinch points, and rough patches that are part of fixed infrastructure, which will make things easier to operational infrastructure to respond in an agile way/
“It will be quite a ride; we got what we wanted for Christmas by getting this bill through, but we need to have patience in dealing with the problems created by the supply chain disruption, and hopefully it will be a lot better by this time next year,” she said.
At a time when things feel somewhat shaky, due to the lasting pandemic and related unease, as well as inflation and, of course, supply chain issues, it is encouraging to see that the roadmap for infrastructure is on solid footing. Patience will be required to get projects going and money flowing, to be sure. But we have waited for more than a while so waiting a little bit longer is not so bad.