Last week, the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC), a coalition comprised of more than 60 public and private organizations dedicated to increasing federal investment in America’s intermodal freight infrastructure, held its annual meeting, which focused on highlighting goods movement infrastructure needs.
A key theme of the meeting focused on the ongoing implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). The legislation, which represents the single largest investment in repairing and reconstructing the nation’s bridges since the construction of the interstate highway system, was signed into law by President Biden in November 2021. A key objective of it is to “ease inflationary pressures and strengthen supply chains by making long overdue improvements for our nation’s ports, airports, rail, and roads,” according to the White House.
CAGTC conducted a survey at its meeting, which found that two-thirds of its member respondents have received funding through the legislation, which it deemed impressive. What’s more, it added that this served as an indication that while there are challenges in the process, 100% of CAGTC member respondents said they will continue to apply for federal funding through competitive grants. What’s more, it added that CAGTC recently issued a new edition—its fourth—of the organization’s booklet, entitled “Freight Can’t Wait,” which is comprised of 60 significant freight projects throughout the United States that would be able to leverage and benefit from federal grant funding.
“Our in-depth survey revealed a number of valuable insights that we look forward to sharing with the Administration as it continues to roll out unprecedented levels of grant funding,” said CAGTC Executive Director Elaine Nessle in a statement. “We encourage the Administration to continue supporting freight projects. Investment in the country’s freight network through competitive grant programs is necessary to ensuring that freight infrastructure can meet the demands of tomorrow.”
This CAGTC survey follows an April hearing held by the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee focused on oversight of the IIJA, with a sharp focus on “ensuring it is implemented as Congress intended.”
A key theme of the House T&I hearing focused on the impact of inflation upping the costs of needed materials for infrastructure projects related to the legislation, as well as concerns about discretionary grant programs being an effective tool for administering federal funds.
“The overwhelming number of grants included in the IIJA continues to create challenges for states, localities, and even USDOT,” said Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director Mark D. Williams on behalf of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, at the hearing. “It may benefit Congress and USDOT to review whether the selected projects will achieve the desired objectives of the programs, and whether the distribution of awards are fair and equitable considering national performance needs and requirements.”
In an interview, at the time of the hearing, CAGTC’s Nessle made the case for the legislation’s grant programs, telling LM that there is a delicate balance, when it comes to implementing the bill’s projects on various fronts.
One key reason for that, she explained, is that the White House does have an historical amount of funding to roll out and included in that funding are a lot of new programs and also a lot of discretionary programs which CAGTC is very supportive, adding that discretionary programs are great for complex multimodal, multi-jurisdictional projects that don’t fit neatly into formula-based and other types of funding.
Addressing the impact of inflation on IIJA funding, she said these inflationary increases are very real and a worst-case scenario would be to have the inflationary increases in the cost of developing projects eat up the big boost in funding Congress included in the IIJA.
“The private sector tends to not have a great level of patience and tolerance for these delays and they don’t want their investments tied up for a substantial period of time,” said Nessle. “There are certainly ways we can move through this and make improvements to the process to speed it up without sacrificing the necessary oversight and judiciousness DOT should be giving these projects.”
With the two-year anniversary of the legislation being signed coming up in November, it is clear that progress is being made. But that comes with the caveat that it is not likely to ever occur at the pace many stakeholders want or need. That comes with the territory and is to be expected, especially in Washington. The best outcome is here, based on CAGTC’s survey, is that more grants are awarded and subsequently more progress is made in addressing our nation’s infrastructure, which is long overdue, and why the passing of this legislation was sorely needed.