Biden: “Infrastructure bill has money to fix all bridges”

Does it? More broadly, what else is in the infrastructure bill?
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When I heard Biden in Pittsburgh asserting that all bridges would be fixed, I chalked it up as the usual political puffery. No big deal.

But, his claim prompted another self-reaction: I should know what’s in the lauded Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill … and, I don’t.

“Millions of us have grown too comfortable pronouncing ourselves passionate about a problem we don’t bother to understand.” Holman Jenkins, WSJ

So, I did some retrospective digging.

First. the numbers …

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The price tag for the infrastructure bill: $1.2 trillion.

About $650 billion of the $1.2 trillion law is earmarked for existing transportation and highway programs.

Think of that portion as routine annual maintenance expense.

That leaves about $550 billion in “new” spending … most of which will be doled out over the next five years.

click chart to enlarge it 
image

Drilling down on the $550 billion of new spending:

> Roughly 2/3’s goes to 5 spending categories: roads & bridges, trains, broadband, electrical grid and water grid

> $110 billion goes to the top category roads & bridges.

An estimated 173,000 miles of roads and 45,000 bridges are in major need of maintenance

Assuming that category’s money is evenly split between roads and bridges, that works out to about $300,000 per mile for needy roads and about $1.25 million per needy bridge.

> About $100 billion (about 20%) of the $550 billion in new spending is sprinkled across initiatives (some specifically listed, some not) that don’t fall in one of the top 10 spending categories listed above.

Call me cynical, but the words that come to mind are “earmarks”, “pet projects”, “kickbacks” and “slush funds”.

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Those are the top-line numbers.

Keep reading for the gory details…

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The big chunks of the $550 billion are:

  • $110 billion for roads and bridges: An estimated 173,000 miles of roads and 45,000 bridges are in major need of maintenance, and the bill’s largest appropriations would go toward making them more structurally sound and repairing damage like potholes. Assuming that money is even split between roads and bridges, that works out to about $300,000 per mile for needy roads and about $1.25 million per needy bridge. Enough to support Biden’s pledge? You decide…

The White House says:

The legislation will reauthorize surface transportation programs for five years and invest $110 billion in additional funding to repair our roads and bridges and support major, transformational projects.

It will rebuild the most economically significant bridges in the country as well as thousands of smaller bridges.

The legislation also includes the first ever Safe Streets and Roads for All program to support projects to reduce traffic fatalities.

On that latter point, Transportation Secretary Buttigieg has been hitting the air waves touting the program’s secret sauce: an expansive network of fine-collecting, equity-based speed radar cameras.

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  • $66 billion for passenger and freight rail: The bill strives to modernize existing rail services and expand lines to new geographic areas. The money will go to improving its offerings in the Northeast corridor (think: AMTRAK) and growing rail presence in as many as 160 communities.

WH says:

The legislation positions rail to play a central role in our transportation and economic future.

The legislation provides additional rail funding to eliminate the Amtrak maintenance backlog, modernize the Northeast Corridor, and bring world-class rail service to areas outside the northeast and mid-Atlantic.

This investment will create safe, efficient, and climate-friendly alternatives for moving people and freight.

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  • $65 billion for expanding broadband access: The bill intends to provide high-speed internet access to millions of Americans who don’t currently have it and includes funds for broadband deployment in rural areas and on tribal lands. Additionally, it contains funding for vouchers to help low-income families afford internet access.

WH says:

More than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds – a particular problem in rural communities throughout the country.

The legislation will also provide vouchers to help lower prices for internet service and help close the digital divide, so that more Americans can afford internet access.

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  • $65 billion to update the electric grid: A key piece of the legislation focuses on bolstering the resiliency of the electric grid in the face of a growing number of natural disasters including wildfires and hurricanes. It’s also dedicated to building new power lines and enhancing the infrastructure for delivering renewable energy.

WH says:

We will upgrade our power infrastructure, by building thousands of miles of new, resilient transmission lines to facilitate the expansion of renewables and clean energy, while lowering costs.

And it will fund new programs to support the development, demonstration, and deployment of cutting-edge clean energy technologies to accelerate our transition to a zero-emission economy.

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  • $55 billion for water and wastewater: The measure tries to tackle water quality in a few different ways: It includes $15 billion for replacing lead pipes, $10 billion to remove contaminants in drinking water, and more than $20 billion for projects that address broader drinking water and wastewater needs.

WH says:

Currently, up to 10 million American households and 400,000 schools and childcare centers lack safe drinking water.

The legislation will invest in water infrastructure and eliminate lead service pipes.

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  • $39 billion for public transit: These funds would repair existing public transit lines, modernize them, and make them easier to access. A key goal is to make existing bus and rail fleets greener, including bringing in more buses that are zero-emissions and retiring those that aren’t.

WH says:

The transportation sector in the United States is now the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Communities of color are twice as likely to take public transportation and many of these communities lack sufficient public transit options.

The legislation will replace thousands of deficient transit vehicles, including buses, with clean, zero emission vehicles.

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  • $25 billion for airports: The bill strives to make upgrades to air traffic control equipment, and to tackle longstanding repairs and maintenance that airports across the country need, like runways and terminals.

See VOX: Making Airports Less Miserable

  • $17 billion for ports and waterways: The bill attempts to curb pollution near ports, and address congestion in order to streamline access and traffic at many locations.

WH says:

The United States built modern aviation, but our airports lag far behind our competitors. According to some rankings, no U.S. airports rank in the top 25 of airports worldwide.

Our ports and waterways need repair and reimagination too.

Modern, resilient, and sustainable port, airport, and freight infrastructure will strengthen our supply chains and support U.S. competitiveness by removing bottlenecks and expediting commerce and reduce the environmental impact on neighboring communities.

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  • $7.5 billion for electric vehicle chargers: This funding includes $7.5 billion to establish a robust nationwide network of electric vehicle chargers, the first system of this scale, and an investment seen as critical for electric vehicle adoption.

WH says:

This is a critical step in the President’s strategy to fight the climate crisis and it will create good U.S. manufacturing jobs.

This investment will support the President’s goal of building a nationwide network of 500,000 EV chargers to accelerate the adoption of EVs.

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  • $1 billion for reconnecting communities: In the past, roads, highways, and bridges have been built that divide communities of color from white communities, an issue this bill aims to address by removing existing barriers and building new infrastructure.

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Implementation

By and large, implementing the projects will fall to the states and localities.

The role of federal government is to approve certain interstate mega-projects and to allocate block funding to states, which then dole out “their” money to different projects and localities.

During this process, many cities and towns will be competing for a limited pool of funding, leaving prioritization of projects up to the state’s discretion.

And, sprinkled heavily into the bill, the Feds will retain project approval authority with particular attention to “equity” and climate control.

God help us…

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Note: This post draws heavily from:

What’s in Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill: Big investments — that aren’t enough – Vox

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