By Caroline M. Sevier
The ASCE Government Relations team advocates for the advancement of America’s infrastructure systems and the vital work civil engineers do to maintain them.
Since the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act became law in November 2021, much of the attention in Washington, D.C., has been on its implementation and how it will transform America’s infrastructure in the coming decades.
Two signature projects funded by the IIJA are already in motion. The first is the nearly $1.4 billion allotted to improve the Brent Spence Bridge that connects Cincinnati and Covington, Kentucky. Funding allows for widening the existing bridge as well as the construction of a companion bridge to help ease traffic congestion. Construction is expected to be complete by 2029.
The second major endeavor to receive IIJA funding is the Hudson Tunnel Project, which is still in the early stages of conceptual design. Plans to increase capacity include the rehabilitation of the existing tunnel, which carries commuter trains between New York and New Jersey, and a new two-track tunnel and associated infrastructure.
These two projects represent some of the most visible parts of the IIJA, but hundreds of other major projects across the country have received funding too. (See more about the IIJA in “Across the US, the IIJA is boosting projects large and small” by Jay Landers.)
While ASCE’s Government Relations team remains focused on the successful implementation of the IIJA, it also continues to work to ensure certain other crucial pieces of legislation are prioritized by members of Congress. The team wants all 17 categories of infrastructure that were graded in ASCE’s 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure to receive the necessary resources to reach a state of good repair.
Victories in 2022
The federal spending package passed and signed into law at the end of the 117th Congress in the final days of 2022 enabled several significant legislative victories for some of ASCE’s top priority issues: transportation, water resources, technology, and resilience.
Among the legislative wins in the spending package are billions of dollars in additional funding for the Federal Highway Administration to improve the safety and long-term viability of the nation’s highways. Lawmakers also approved nearly $4 billion in spending for rural development programs to improve water systems and expand broadband internet service.
Additionally, lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the Water Resources Development Act in December as part of the defense funding package. The bill is required to be reauthorized by Congress every two years. Some of the highlights of WRDA 2022 are funding for 21 new and existing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water infrastructure projects, including dams and ports, in addition to flood risk management and storm risk reduction measures.
The act also includes provisions to improve infrastructure resilience and protect public safety. Lastly — and separate from the Corps’ funding — WRDA 2022 contains new requirements to make America’s dams and levees safer; each received a D on ASCE’s 2021 report card.
Two other ASCE priorities that became law in the final days of the 117th Congress were the Flood Level Observation, Operations, and Decision Support Act and the Providing Research and Estimates of Changes in Precipitation Act. These bills help the federal government respond to the growing risks to communities from climate change and increasingly severe weather conditions that impact every state and territory.
The FLOODS Act requires the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to create a new atlas that predicts rain events and precipitation patterns across the country. The information from the database will help civil engineers design more resilient infrastructure systems.
Likewise, the PRECIP Act requires NOAA to change how it collects precipitation frequency and intensity data. It also requires regular updates on probable maximum precipitation levels so that engineers and communities are equipped with the most up-to-date information.
Here’s why these acts are so important: In 2022 alone, the U.S. experienced 18 separate billion-dollar climate events. This means the destruction caused by tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, floods, and more caused damages of more than $1 billion 18 times throughout the year. The U.S. and other countries simply cannot afford to be reactive to severe climate events.
Another piece of legislation that will help ASCE’s legislative priorities move forward is the CHIPS and Science Act, which became law in August. In addition to supporting the domestic production of semiconductor chips, this law allocates increased funding for science and research programs supported by ASCE. Funding for these programs will accelerate the development of new materials and processes that can decrease the cost of building sustainable and resilient infrastructure.
What’s ahead in 2023
The new year brought a change to Washington. Republicans are now in control of the House of Representatives, while Democrats retain control of the Senate. This division of power in Congress presents new challenges and opportunities for advancing ASCE’s infrastructure priorities this year.
Two of the Society’s main priorities for the 118th Congress are reauthorizing several Federal Aviation Administration programs and the National Dam Safety Program that expire on Sept. 30 — the end of the fiscal year.
Aviation received a D+ on the 2021 report card. ASCE wants Congress to pass a multiyear bill that would increase aviation infrastructure funding, invest in aviation resilience, and advance the safe and efficient delivery of projects. The consequences for failing to provide long-term funding have been disruptive at best.
The FAA operated under several short-term funding authorizations before the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The long-term uncertainty caused by that short-term funding led to delays in investment decisions, which meant airport tax dollars did not go as far as they could have. A long-term funding plan would provide a clear path forward for vital aviation infrastructure projects.
ASCE also wants lawmakers to lift the cap on passenger facility charges from $4.50 per passenger, a move that would ultimately increase revenue for the Airport Improvement Program. Changes to this program would increase resources for much-needed projects and would make the U.S. aviation system more efficient.
The National Dam Safety Program, in place since 1996, benefits almost every American. Besides dam safety, the program provides funding to states to support monitoring, inspections, and emergency planning operations. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates that more than 2,300 high-hazard potential dams are deficient, and it estimates it will cost more than $150 billion to get them into a state of good repair. The cost of repairing those dams is small compared with the damage caused by catastrophic failures
The National Dam Safety Program receives $43 million a year to support dam repairs, and ASCE supports increasing that amount.
2024 and beyond
While the overall grade on the 2021 report card improved from a D+ to a C-, that is not a grade anybody would be proud to bring home. ASCE’s Government Relations team remains committed to improving America’s infrastructure and raising the grades for all categories included on the report card.
The team will work with both parties — no matter who is in power — to advance America’s infrastructure and the vital work of civil engineers to maintain the systems we rely on daily.
Caroline Sevier is the director of government relations at ASCE.
This article first appeared in the May/June 2023 print issue of Civil Engineering as “Advocacy Pays Off.”
To learn how the ASCE Government Relations team is working for you and how you can get involved, visit the Advocacy page. Visit ASCE’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Implementation Resource Center to track implementation of the IIJA.