Congress Urged to Release Infrastructure Funds
Several organizations have recently urged President Joe Biden and Congress to release federal funding, including appropriations from the bipartisan infrastructure law, in order to prevent project delays and bolster infrastructure programs.
The Feb. 8 letter, which was signed by leaders from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, National Association of Counties, International City/County Management Association, Council of State Governments, National Governors Association and National Conference of State Legislatures, urges Congress to “swiftly” pass appropriations for the fiscal year 2022.
Current federal funding for most federal surface transportation programs at FY 2021 levels ends on Feb. 18. Funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has not yet been released because Congress and President Biden have not enacted a full-year FY 2022 transportation law at the IIJA-authorized investment levels.
“We urge lawmakers to negotiate in good faith to advance FY 2022 spending legislation and instill confidence in our residents as we navigate through the ongoing pandemic,” the letter stated. “The IIJA represents a historic investment in our nation’s infrastructure, and Congress must ensure that these new resources are made available to state, territory, and local governments as intended under the law.”
The letter also notes that, without this funding, these governments and public transit agencies will not have access to about 20% of funding increase from the bipartisan infrastructure bill for highway formula programs and more than a 30% increase for public transit formula programs. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that roughly $45 billion in competitive resources from the first year of the law will go unrealized.
In addition to these organizations, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association recently published its analysis of USDOT’s 2021 National Bridge Inventory database, urging lawmakers to release this funding.
The ARTBA’s 2022 Bridge Report was released at the beginning of the month, reporting that 78,888 bridges in the country should be replaced and 224,000 (36% of all U.S. bridges) need major repairs. States with the most bridges in poor condition are:
Additionally, ARTBA estimates that the cost of repairing the 224,000 bridges would be $60 billion, based on average repair and replacement cost data published by the Federal Highway Administration and submitted by bridge owners, which are typically state Departments of Transportation. At the current rate of repair, it would take approximately 30 years to fix all of the country’s structurally deficient bridges.
Almost half of the 619,588 U.S. bridges, 48%, were rated in fair condition, meaning the bridge shows evidence of minor deterioration or minor cracks. This number grew by 2,916 in 2021.
“The longer it takes to bridge the political divide on the FY 2022 spending bills, the longer it will take for transportation improvements to get started,” ARTBA President & CEO Dave Bauer said. “We urge Congress to act forthwith so that the American people can begin to realize the benefits of the historic investments in the bipartisan infrastructure law.”
The American Society of Civil Engineers currently ranks the country’s bridges with a “C” grade on its 2021 report card, with an overall "C-" grade for infrastructure in the nation. In this report, 7.5% of the nation’s bridges are considered structurally deficient, with 178 million trips being taken on these bridges every day.
“Our infrastructure is always there doing its job. It’s not until something goes drastically wrong that people pay attention,” noted Maria Lehman, ASCE president-elect. “Civil engineering failure is front-and-center because it’s important to people.”
One recent example of this could include the Pittsburgh bridge collapse at the end of last month, which injured 10 people. The National Transportation Safety Board recently released its preliminary investigation findings for the collapse, but the final report may take over a year to complete. The Fern Hollow Bridge had received an overall “poor” rating since 2011.
ASCE also notes that, to improve conditions, spending on bridge rehabilitation would need to increase from $14.4 billion annually to $22.7 billion annually. Lehman suggested that state transportation departments and local municipalities maximize their funding in regional clusters near each other to take advantage of economies of scale, including lower administrative costs.
“It’s really important that we start to think of systemic solutions instead of one-off solutions,” she declared.
Bridge Formula Program
Looking at bridges specifically, Biden announced a new program by the U.S. Department of Transportation in January, targeting the replacement and repair of the nation’s bridges as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law.
The Bridge Replacement, Rehabilitation, Preservation, Protection, and Construction Program (Bridge Formula Program) will be administered by the Federal Highway Administration and represents the largest bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system.
A total of $26.5 billion will be provided to states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico over the next five years, and $825 million in funding for Tribal transportation facilities. In the 2022 fiscal year, $5.3 billion will be available to states, D.C. and Puerto Rico and $165 million for tribes.
USDOT expects for the Bridge Formula Program to help repair approximately 15,000 highway bridges, as well as dedicate funding for Tribal transportation facility bridges and “off-system” bridges, or locally-owned facilities not on the federal-aid highway system.
As an incentive for off-system bridges owned by a county, city, town or other local agency, the new guidance notes that federal funds can be used for 100% of the cost of repairing or rehabilitating the structures. Typically, states must match federal funding with up to 20% state or local funding.
Funds are being allocated to states based on need, with states responsible for deciding what bridge projects get funded. According to reports, the administration is encouraging states to use funds to repair existing bridges when possible, but if choose to build new bridges should prioritize equity and address barriers to opportunity and challenges experienced by underserved communities.
Infrastructure Bill Details
With the goal of rebuilding the nation’s deteriorating roads and bridges, as well as funding new climate resilience and broadband initiatives, the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act reportedly serves to deliver a key component in President Joe Biden’s agenda.
The White House also reports that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, alongside the Build Back Framework, will add on average 1.5 million jobs per year for the next ten years.
“Tonight, we took a monumental step forward as a nation,” President Biden said in a statement following the 228-206 vote. “The United States House of Representatives passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a once-in-generation bipartisan infrastructure bill that will create millions of jobs, turn the climate crisis into an opportunity and put us on a path to win the economic competition for the 21st Century.
“I’m also proud that a rule was voted on that will allow for passage of my Build Back Better Act in the House of Representatives the week of Nov. 15. The Build Back Better Act will be a once-in-a-generation investment in our people.”
As potential effects of climate change woe the world, the legislation has recognized that nearly 75% of the nation’s electricity can be accounted for in both its residential and commercial structures, such as housing, stores and offices.
To mitigate the high usage, the Build Better Plan has dedicated roughly $5 billion to various programs aimed at reducing electricity use in buildings, improving building materials and training on design, construction and maintenance for energy-efficient structures.
The bill will also fund a series of problem-solving programs, for issues varying from drafty windows in affordable housing complexes to aged air ducts and outdated building codes.
According to reports, the largest chunk of the $5 billion will be utilized for the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program, which aids structures owned or occupied by people with low incomes. The legislation is expected to provide a $3.5 billion infusion for the program, which will be used to fund upgrades such as insulation, windows, roofing, and heating and cooling devices.
Though seemingly minor, the upgrades are expected to result in sizable energy savings.
Later in November, the White House announced that President Joe Biden named former New Orleans Mayor Landrieu as senior advisor responsible for the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Landrieu served as the mayor of New Orleans from 2010-2018, during Hurricane Katrina recovery and the BP Oil Spill. According to the White House statement, in that time he fast-tracked over 100 projects and secured billions in federal funding for roads, schools, hospitals, parks and critical infrastructure.
“He also knows what it’s like to lead at the state level and will be able to work with and relate to governors and other state officials,” stated the White House press release. “And he has strong relationships in the business and labor communities, which will be essential in carrying out this job.”
At the beginning of the year, Landrieu reached out to state leaders at the beginning of the month encouraging them to appoint their own infrastructure coordinators to implement the $1.2 trillion law.
The three-page letter, sent to all the nation’s governors on Jan. 4, requested that they appoint a “high-level” representative to serve as the state’s own Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator. Landrieu also reportedly suggested that governors create task forces modeled after the Infrastructure Implementation Task Force created by President Joe Biden in November.
The role of these positions will help integrate aspects of the bill, including funding, alongside departments responsible for transportation, water, broadband and energy investments for projects.
“We know that needs, capacity, and challenges can vary widely by locality,” the letter from Landrieu, which was shared with CNN, reads. “We need to make sure our programs reflect these realities across your state and our country, and having a senior, single point of contact in your office will help ensure that issues get elevated appropriately and rapidly.”
In his letter, Landrieu also announced that his team, with the Office of Management and Budget, plan to release formal guidance to agencies to “help set the policy parameters for much of the discretionary and remaining formula funding in 2022 and beyond.”
At the beginning of the month, the White House released the first edition of its Bipartisan Infrastructure Law guidebook that contains a comprehensive list of the more than 375 programs and available funding included in the law.
Acting as a “roadmap” for the funding available under the law, as well as an explanatory document that shows direct federal spending at the program level, the 465-page guidebook outlines 12 chapters grouping the programs by area.
According to the release, more than $80 billion has been allocated to states from formula and competitive programs for roads and highways, bridges, ports, airports and water systems. Additional programs, including for high speed internet, electric vehicle chargers, energy grid updates and clean energy, are in the process of being implemented.
Of the 375 programs, 125 are new, with 60% of the funds are available through formula and 40% are through competitive applications. Future phases of the guidebook are expected to update dates and timelines for program implementation, best practices, case studies and links to key resources.