By Jay Landers
After months of delay and debate, the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) has become law (P.L. 117-58). On Nov. 15, President Joe Biden signed the legislation, of which 100% of the funding is for infrastructure. All told, the new law provides nearly $550 billion in new federal spending over five years for a wide range of infrastructure categories (see table) and allocates some $650 billion for existing infrastructure programs during the same five-year period. At the same time, the IIJA reauthorizes such key federal efforts as the surface transportation program and the Clean Water and Drinking Water state revolving funds.
In short, the IIJA represents the most significant federal infrastructure legislation that has been enacted into law in decades.
Restoring the federal partnership
H.R. 3684 started off as a surface transportation reauthorization bill. Approved by the House on July 1, the legislation went to the Senate, where a bipartisan group of senators substantially reworked and expanded it into the $1.2 trillion IIJA that addresses practically all infrastructure sectors. Approved by a vote of 69-30 in the Senate on Aug. 10, the bill returned to the House, where it languished for nearly three months. During this time, House Democrats debated how to proceed on the IIJA and an even larger bill addressing climate change and a host of social programs. Ultimately, House leaders put the IIJA to a vote on Nov. 5, and it passed 228-206.
Before signing the legislation, Biden noted that it represents a turnaround from previous failures by the federal government to dedicate sufficient attention and resources to the subject of infrastructure. “For too long, we’ve talked about having the best economy in the world,” Biden said, according to the White House’s transcript of his remarks during the Nov. 15 signing ceremony. “We’ve talked about asserting American leadership around the world with the best and the safest roads, railroads, ports, airports. Here in Washington, we’ve heard countless speeches and promises and white papers from experts. But today, we’re finally getting this done.”
ASCE’s president expressed a similar sentiment after House passage of the IIJA. “With this legislation, the federal government will restore their critical partnership with cities and states to modernize our nation’s roads, bridges, transit systems, drinking water pipes, school facilities, broadband, ports, airports and more,” said Dennis Truax, Ph.D., P.E., DEE, D.WRE, F.ASCE, the Society’s president, in a Nov. 5 statement. “Without a strong federal partner, local projects that are community lifelines have hung in the balance, oftentimes being paused or outright canceled due to funding uncertainties. When this happens, American households and businesses are the ones who pay the price.”
Highways and bridges to benefit
Surface transportation emerged as one of the big winners in the new law. In terms of new funding over and above the levels provided by existing programs, the IIJA appropriates $110 billion for roads, bridges, and major transportation projects during the next five years. Most of this funding will take the form of competitive grants to be awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
At the same time, the law reauthorizes the surface transportation program for five years, allocating $383.4 billion for core federal highway and bridge programs. This amount equates to a 22% increase from current funding levels. However, Congress opted not to raise the gas tax or take other steps to increase revenues to the ailing Highway Trust Fund, which continues to take in far less than what the federal government has pledged to spend on highway, bridge, and mass transit programs. Rather, the law calls for a $118 billion transfer from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund.
The IIJA represents a “generational investment in America’s transportation network,” according to a Nov. 10 fact sheet from the DOT. “It will allow the nation to modernize its infrastructure, making it safer and more resilient.” For example, the new law will “reduce the backlog for major repairs for highways and bridges by almost 20%” and “fix up to 10 of the most economically significant bridges in the nation, and repair over 15,000 smaller bridges across the country,” according to the DOT’s fact sheet.
Transportation infrastructure advocates were quick to praise the IIJA. “The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is the most significant measure in more than 50 years to meaningfully address the condition and performance of the U.S. transportation network,” said Dave Bauer, the president and CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, in a Nov. 5 statement.
Boosting transit and rail
Mass transit and rail likewise enjoyed significant boosts in funding from the new law. “The $107 billion for public transit and $102 billion for commuter rail, Amtrak, and other high-performance rail in this bill will build infrastructure that will make public transportation faster, more modern, and more reliable, while tackling climate change, advancing equity issues, and providing growing communities sustainable mobility options,” said Paul Skoutelas, the president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association, in a Nov. 5 statement.
The IIJA will increase transit funding “for communities all over the country by an average of 30% — allowing for communities to address maintenance backlogs, modernization and expansion,” according to the DOT’s fact sheet. Among the improvements slated for Amtrak, the law will pay for “major bridge and tunnel replacement projects along the Northeast Corridor,” the fact sheet states.
Airports to take off
As for aviation, the $25 billion allocated by the IIJA will “nearly cut in half the $43.6 (billion) backlog of airport modernization and safety projects identified by the (U.S. Federal Aviation Administration),” according to the DOT fact sheet. Meanwhile, the funding also will replace “up to 100 control towers at regional and municipal airports across the United States in the next decade,” the fact sheet states.
For its part, the Airports Council International - North America, a trade association representing commercial service airports in the United States and Canada, highlighted the critical importance of the funding to U.S. airports. “With air travel on the rise, America’s airports look forward to getting to work on hundreds of essential improvement projects that will expand the capacity of our terminals and runways, increase the resiliency of our infrastructure, and improve the overall passenger experience,” said Kevin Burke, the ACI-NA’s president and CEO, in a Nov. 5 statement.
Funding flows for water
Drinking water and wastewater infrastructure also benefited significantly from congressional attention. Both the Drinking Water and Clean Water SRFs, which provide low-interest loans for water and wastewater projects, were reauthorized at $14.65 billion for fiscal years 2022 to 2026. In addition, Congress also appropriated an additional $11.7 billion apiece for the SRFs during the next five years. Of this appropriated funding, 49% is to take the form of grants or agreements with 100% principal forgiveness.
As for other big-ticket items related to water infrastructure, the IIJA appropriates $15 billion for efforts related to removing lead service lines from drinking water distribution systems. Another $10 billion is provided to address emerging contaminants in drinking water and wastewater.
On to implementation
Now that the IIJA has become law, the focus shifts to implementation of the massive bill. To this end, Biden also signed on Nov. 15 the Executive Order on Implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The executive order establishes the Infrastructure Implementation Task Force. “The function of the Task Force is to coordinate effective implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and other related significant infrastructure programs within the executive branch,” according to the executive order.
The task force will be co-chaired by Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, and Mitch Landrieu, a former mayor of New Orleans and former lieutenant governor of Louisiana. “I am thankful to the President and honored to be tasked with coordinating the largest infrastructure investment in generations,” Landrieu said in a Nov. 14 statement from the White House. “Our work will require strong partnerships across the government and with state and local leaders, business and labor to create good-paying jobs and rebuild America for the middle class. We will also ensure these major investments achieve the President’s goals of combating climate change and advancing equity.”