After being held political hostage for three months, a transformational infrastructure package that includes $550 billion in new spending on highways, bridges and other transport measures finally passed a contentious Congress. It’s worth upward of $1.2 trillion, depending on estimates.
After weeks of anxiety, the House voted 228-206 with 13 Republicans joining Democrats in passing the most significant investment in roads and bridges in 70 years. President Joe Biden is expected to sign it at a White House ceremony this week.
Earlier the vote passed strictly along party lines in the Senate, passing with all 50 Democrats and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking. It had already passed the House with 19 Republicans joining the Democratic majority, but was held political hostage over partisan wrangling.
“We did something long overdue, that has been long talked about in Washington, but never actually done,” Biden said. “This is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America, and it’s long overdue.”
For the past three months, however, fate of the infrastructure package was unclear. That’s largely because a Progressive caucus of more than 100 Democrats in the House wanted their votes on infrastructure tied to a larger, $1.75 trillion “human infrastructure” measure that will be voted on separately the week before Thanksgiving.
After four years of “infrastructure weeks”—Washington finally produced what the Biden administration is hailing as “the Big Deal.”
The Biden administration is warning America that its infrastructure building may last a decade.
“The work begins right away but it will go on for years to come,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg crowed.
White House Senior Advisor and Director of the Office of Public Engagement. Cedric Richmond, a former congressman from Louisiana, said he was “very confident” that “shovel-ready” projects could start within three months. “It will ease some supply chain issues,” Richmond told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “We’re going to start fixing this country’s ailing infrastructure.”
Fred Smith, founder and CEO of FedEx, called it a “step in the right direction” and said “any investment” in the logistics system will benefit all Americans.
“For too many years I have compared the state of America’s infrastructure to that of one big pothole. With the passage of (this bill), I can finally declare that help is on the way,” said former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, co-chair with former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell of Building America’s Future, a coalition formed to increase transportation spending.
Freight interests across all modes applauded the Democratic-led House for finally passing the bill, long stalled in Washington.
American Trucking Associations (ATA) President and CEO Chris Spear could have been speaking for all transport interests when he issued his statement.
“Roads and bridges are not political—we all drive on them. A majority in the House realized this today and did what’s right for the country, not themselves,” Spear said.
“From farmers to truckers, the millions of hard-working people who make this country great won today. Those lawmakers who put their constituents before themselves to help seal this achievement have cemented a lasting legacy that the American people will now see, feel and use for many decades to come,” Spear added.
That’s because after years of lobbying, countless hearings and meetings on Capitol Hill, ATA members will finally see the fruits of their labor—a 38% increase in road and bridge funding and an infusion of highly-trained, younger talent into our workforce, Spear added.
“This bill represents a significant investment in our nation’s roads and bridges and delivers a desperately needed injection into the Highway Trust Fund to keep it solvent,” the Truckload Carriers Association said in a statement.
“This historic investment in freight infrastructure comes at a critical time and will enable strategic investments necessary to improve our supply chain infrastructure and ensure it can meet the challenges and demands of tomorrow,” stated Elaine Nessle, executive director of the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC).
Fulfilling 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.
New investments for sectors addressed in infrastructure bill include: Transportation: $284 billion; Water: $55 billion; Broadband: $65 billion; Energy & Power: $73 billion; Environmental remediation: $21 billion; Western water infrastructure: $8.3 billion; and Resiliency: $46 billion.
In total, the $550 billion in new spending includes $284 billion toward all modes of transportation and $266 billion for other infrastructure sectors. Most of the new investments—nearly 52 percent – are for modernizing and making improvements to transportation infrastructure, with the majority of funding reserved for highways, roads and bridges: Roads & Bridges: $110 billion; Transit: $39 billion; Rail: $66 billion; Safety: $11 billion; Airports: $25 billion; Ports & Waterways: $17 billion; Electric vehicle chargers: $7.5 billion; Electric buses: $7.5 billion; and Reconnecting Communities: $1 billion.
The federal government’s increased investment in infrastructure could spur more private partnership funds as well.
“The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will help to unleash private investment and streamline permitting to lower costs and accelerate project delivery,” said Business Roundtable Infrastructure Committee Chairman Brendan Bechtel, chairman and CEO of Bechtel Group.
“It will also promote resilience and sustainability in the face of a changing climate, natural disasters and cyberattacks. Finally, this legislation will better connect rural and underserved communities, including the communications technology needed to succeed in the 21st century,” Bechtel added.
Meanwhile, due to billions of dollars of what is called “true-ups”—basically reconciling or matching two or more accounts’ balances—paid into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) by the Treasury Department, the HTF should be solvent well into 2022. That’s according to a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) official who spoke recently at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) annual meeting in San Diego.
“We now have enough balance [in the HTF] to go into late spring or early summer because we received a number of ‘true-ups’ from Treasury over the last several months,” Brian Bezio, FHWA’s chief financial officer, told the AASHTO group.