Culminating months of negotiations between the White House and a bipartisan group of senators, the Senate passed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) on Aug. 10. Widely hailed by ASCE and other advocates of increased federal support for infrastructure, the wide-ranging legislation would boost funding significantly for essentially all infrastructure sectors and reauthorize certain key programs, including the surface transportation program and the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water state revolving funds.
Passed by a vote of 69-30, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act had its genesis in the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan that was released by the Biden administration in late March. The release of that plan, which also called for sharp increases in federal funding for a host of infrastructure sectors, prompted the long-running negotiations that led to the legislation approved by the Senate on Aug. 10.
Upon the Senate’s passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, President Joe Biden hailed the historic importance of the moment.
“I’m happy to mark this significant milestone on the road toward making what we all know are long-overdue, much-needed investments in basic, hard infrastructure of this nation,” Biden said on Aug. 10 in remarks to the news media, according to a transcript provided by the White House. “We can be proud of these unprecedented investments that are going to transform this nation and change millions of lives for the better,” he said.
‘A once-in-a-generation investment’
Among the most notable features of the 2,702-page legislation is the high levels of new funding that it would provide. The five-year bill includes “$550 billion in new spending above the current baseline” for existing infrastructure programs, says Caroline Sevier, ASCE’s director of government relations.
This massive infusion of federal funding would be allocated among nearly all the categories that ASCE tracks as part of its quadrennial assessment of the state of U.S. infrastructure (see table). Released in March, the most recent such evaluation — the 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure — assigned an overall grade of C- to the nation’s infrastructure.
If the infrastructure bill is enacted, the funding boost could go a long way toward helping improve the grades of the various infrastructure categories, Sevier says. “We see it as a once-in-a-generation investment, where we can make a down payment on a lot of those funding gaps that we’ve identified as part of the report card,” she says.
Surface transportation to benefit
Surface transportation emerged as a clear winner among the infrastructure sectors that would receive funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. For example, the legislation would reauthorize the federal surface transportation program at $383.4 billion for five years, during which time funding for such areas as highways and bridges, highway safety, and mass transit would increase by 22% compared with current levels, according to a summary of the legislation prepared by ASCE’s Government Relations team.
Beyond the funding authorized as part of the surface transportation program, the recently passed Senate bill calls for $110 billion in appropriations for roads, bridges, and major projects. These funds would help rectify a $1.2 trillion, 10-year funding gap identified in ASCE’s 2021 report card, according to the Government Relations summary. Of the $110 billion, $100 billion would consist of competitive grants to be awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“The bill includes a total of $40 billion of new funding for bridge repair, replacement, and rehabilitation, which is the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system,” reads an Aug. 2 White House summary of the legislation. “The bill also includes around $16 billion for major projects that are too large or complex for traditional funding programs but will deliver significant economic benefits to communities.”
Big increases for rail, aviation
Among surface transportation categories, transit and, especially, rail would receive some of the largest funding gains in terms of percentage increases.
The bill would provide $106.9 billion for public transit, an increase of $41.1 billion, or 63%, above current levels, according to an Aug. 10 legislative update from the American Public Transportation Association.
Meanwhile, passenger and freight rail would receive $102.1 billion, a jump of $86.7 billion, or 561%, above current levels, the APTA’s legislative update states.
“In total, the new investments and reauthorization provide $89.9 billion in guaranteed funding for public transit over the next five years,” according to the White House summary. “This is the largest federal investment in public transit in history and devotes a larger share of funds from surface transportation reauthorization to transit (than at any other time) in the history of the programs.”
The significant funding for rail would help implement a Biden administration priority to increase the extent to which passenger rail contributes to the transportation network. “The legislation positions Amtrak and rail to play a central role in our transportation and economic future,” according to the White House summary. “This is the largest investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak 50 years ago. The legislation invests $66 billion in rail to eliminate the Amtrak maintenance backlog, modernize the Northeast Corridor, and bring world-class rail service to areas outside the northeast and mid-Atlantic.”
As for aviation, the bill would provide $25 billion in new spending for airports. Of this amount, $15 billion would take the form of formula grants for runways and other airside improvements, according to the summary from ASCE’s Government Relations. Another $5 billion would provide grants for terminal development projects, while the remaining $5 billion would go to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for improvements to air traffic control facilities.
“Airports across the United States are grateful to senators from both parties for supporting an infrastructure bill that makes a much-needed down payment to upgrade their aging facilities,” said Kevin Burke, the president and CEO of Airports Council International-North America, in an Aug. 10 news release. “Chronically underfunded, U.S. airports face more than $115 billion in documented infrastructure needs over the next five years because they have struggled to make necessary improvements to terminals, runways, and other critical infrastructure.”
Additional funding for water infrastructure, resilience, and dams
Drinking water and wastewater infrastructure likewise would fare well under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. In addition to reauthorizing the Safe Drinking Water and Clean Water initiatives, the legislation would boost authorized spending levels significantly for the programs, which provide funding to states so that they can provide low-interest loans to local governments for water and wastewater projects. What is more, both programs would receive an additional $11.7 billion during fiscal years 2022 to 2026, nearly half of which would have to be used by states as grants or as forgiveness of principal on existing loans.
In other water-related funding, $15 billion would be dedicated to replacing lead service lines around the country, while another $10 billion would go toward addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and other emerging contaminants in water supplies.
Looking to improve the resilience of communities in the face of climate change and other threats, the legislation would allocate $50 billion to protect against droughts and floods and improve weatherization of critical facilities. For example, the act includes $7 billion for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers infrastructure projects and $3.5 billion for the Flood Mitigation Assistance Program overseen by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is the largest investment in the resilience of physical and natural systems in American history,” according to the ASCE Government Relations summary.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would also provide $733 million for dam safety and the rehabilitation of high hazard potential dams — funding that was missing from the American Jobs Plan, Sevier says. Inclusion of this funding is a “very big win,” she notes. “Those are big priorities for ASCE.”
An uncertain future
Following its approval in the Senate, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act went to the House, and it remains to be seen when the legislation might come up for a vote. As of publication time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has indicated that she intends to bring the bill to the floor around the same time as a vote on an anticipated $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill that would fund efforts related to climate change, education, and health care. In an Aug. 21 letter to House Democrats, Pelosi set a goal to pass both the infrastructure legislation and the reconciliation bill by Oct. 1.