WASHINGTON – More than 45,000 bridges rated in poor condition. Hundreds of waterworks break through every day. Traffic jam which, before the pandemic, he added 54 hours to the average commute to work.
There aren’t many problems uniting Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, such as the collapse of roads, airports and transit systems at home – and the Biden administration hopes efforts to modernize neglected U.S. infrastructure could spur a rare moment of bipartism.
With Congress the recent adoption of the Incentive Act for COVID-19 known as the U.S. Rescue Plan, President Joe Biden met in recent weeks with Republican and Democratic lawmakers to discuss how to move forward on the infrastructure plan. It is expected to present its infrastructure proposal in the coming weeks.
See for yourself:How many bad bridges are there in your state?
Transportation bills are mostly multi-year plans that, among other priorities, affect Americans ’commute to work, vacation travel, and bike and hiking trails. And while Biden’s proposal would also affect the daily routine of those who ride, fly and train, it is expected to be much more far-reaching than previous accounts by touching on other policy areas such as climate change, economic justice and the digital divide.
Traffic Secretary Pete Buttigiego is scheduled to appear before the House Transport and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday to set out the administration’s priorities in what will be the first step in months of negotiations with Congress to reshape the way Americans travel the country.
Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to help manage the infrastructure bill, sounds optimistic that lawmakers of both strips can come together even during an open guerrilla war.
“There are a lot of things we disagree on here in the capital of our state,” he said. “One of the things he broadly agrees on is to get to work on services, transportation, roads, highways and bridges. That’s the priority of Democrats, it’s the priority of Republicans, it’s the priority of our new president.”
But even filling holes and building runways is no longer an easy task for Congress.
Climate change, a continuing the debate on raising the minimum wage to $ 15 and the hyper-partisan environment on Capitol Hill threatens to halt progress in reaching a compromise even before talks begin at high speed. And that doesn’t include any debate over whether to increase the federal gas tax by 18.4 percent per gallon that hasn’t increased in 27 years despite increased needs for highways and transit.
The infrastructure now needs to reach $ 6 trillion
There is little controversy over the scope of the problem.
The American Society of Civil Engineers rated the state of U.S. infrastructure at C-minus. This is the best estimate since 1988. Despite this, the costs of repairing or modernizing roads, dams, airports and other capital needs are constantly rising.
The country’s total infrastructure needs over the decade are approaching $ 6 trillion, or about $ 2.6 trillion more than what the public and private sectors are projected to spend, the organization said. If not resolved, ASCE projects that a “backlog of infrastructure bill” will cost each U.S. household approximately $ 3,300 a year in lost productivity and higher prices for goods and services.
In addition, Texas Transportation Institute, who studies travel time to work, says an additional 54 hours spent idling in traffic costs an average of $ 1,080 in lost time and fuel.
Grades from ASCE range from B in rail to D in transit, according to the group’s report for 2021. Aviation, drinking water, energy, inland waterways and ports have improved since the last assessment in 2017, while only one category – bridges – has fallen. Overall, 11 categories barely received a passing grade, “a clear signal that our arrears for infrastructure are far from being paid,” the report said.
Among the group’s findings:
- The water supply breaks every two minutes, and in the U.S., about 6 billion gallons of purified water are lost daily, enough to fill over 9,000 pools.
- Almost half – 43% – of public roads are rated as in poor or mediocre condition.
- It is estimated that one in five school-age children lack a high-speed Internet connection.
- More than 2,300 defective dams with “high risk potential”.
- Airport terminal upgrades are estimated to cost $ 6.6 billion.
- The collective cost of tackling transit improvements is $ 176 billion, and the deficit is expected to exceed $ 270 billion by 2029.
“The time has come to boldly move into the crumbling infrastructure of our state,” said Peter DeFazio, a congressman from Oregon who chairs the House Transportation Committee.
More than roads and bridges
Congress leaders hope the breadth of the challenge will force lawmakers to come together, as they have in the past with regard to infrastructure legislation.
The next package should include investing in expanding broadband Internet access and traditional roads, bridges and seaports, said Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican in Allocations from the Senate a subcommittee overseeing the financing of transport.
“The pandemic has really highlighted the differences (broadband networks) between areas in rural America, like parts of my state of Maine, and more urban areas,” she told reporters. “Because it affects everything from online learning, to working from home, to delivering telemedicine, it’s really important to equalize access to high-speed internet services.”
Buttigieg he said at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas on Thursday it can no longer be just about asphalt.
“We’re starting with something unglamorous, which fixes and improves what we’ve already got – billions of dollars left over were just on the roads and bridges we already have,” he said. “But I’ll add that there are some things that need to be reduced … sometimes roads need to go on a diet.”
Opportunity to combat climate change
This is not just a moment to help trains run on time. For Biden and the Congressional Democrats, it is also about dealing with one of the biggest sources of climate change.
Transportation, mostly gas-powered vehicles and aircraft, accounts for about 28% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest sector contributing to climate change, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
And although the pandemic has led to the biggest annual drop in energy-related greenhouse gas emissions since World War II, carbon emissions across the planet are beginning to recover, according to a report by the International Energy Agency. The IEA found that global emissions in December 2020 were 2% higher than in the same month a year earlier.
Progressives in Congress and environmental groups force the administration to include a strong climate component in any proposal submitted by the Biden administration. These components are still being debated so it is not clear what exactly the final proposal will look like.
During the presidential campaign, Biden vowed to “create millions of good, union jobs by rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure – from roads and bridges to green spaces and water systems to power grids and universal broadband” as part of his “Build Better” agenda.
This includes expanding the number of charging stations for electric vehicles and providing medium and large cities with “high-quality public transport options without any emissions”.
But Republicans, many of whom represent fossil fuel-producing states, are wary of adding progressive climate policies to a law they generally believe should focus on increasing transportation capacity.
How to pay for improvements
As if climate change initiatives opposed by some Republicans may not complicate the prospect of major infrastructure work in a tightly divided Congress, finding a way to pay the multimillion-dollar bill could miss a potential compromise.
Most surface transport costs (roads and railways) are paid by states and local governments, but the federal government plays an important role in financing projects.
Even when some key Republicans in previous bills advocated raising gas taxes, GOP fiscal conservatives helped kill those plans. As chairman of the House Transportation Committee in 2003, Alaska GOP MP Don Young proposed doubling that to 33 cents, but that didn’t go anywhere in the Republican-led House.
Given Republicans’ harsh criticism of the newly adopted $ 1.9 trillion COVID incentive bill, it seems unlikely that they will be subject to an infrastructure bill that would increase government debt it’s already over $ 28 trillion and it’s climbing.
And there is another element that threatens to fall with any package: the onslaught of progressives on Capitol Hill that the bill includes $ 15 per hour federal minimum wage after failing to retain the provision in the newly adopted COVID assistance account.
Some moderate Democrats joined Republicans who opposed the wage bill. But Biden will face pressure from the left to include the measure in the infrastructure package given its long-term prospect of earning $ 15 if it is not part of a larger bill.
That’s why some lawmakers are talking about breaking the law into smaller packages that could get bipartisan support, or even applying the same budget reconciliation procedure used to pass the COVID-19 facility that evaded Senate filibuster rules, passed without a single GOP vote -a.
The whip of Republican House Steve Scalise of Louisiana said it would be a mistake.
“If there’s a legislative proposal on infrastructure going forward, it should be bipartisan, because there are a lot of Republicans who want to work with Democrats to address our infrastructure needs,” he said. “But you also have to talk about how to pay for it. You can’t just constantly add a mountain of debt to hundreds of billions at once and not think it’s going to catch up with you.”
Contribution: Associated Press