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Communities across U.S. prepare for influx of infrastructure dollars

By Jake Thomas
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Communities across U.S. prepare for influx of infrastructure dollars
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tours new EVGo electric vehicle charging stations in Washington, D.C., on  April 22. The infrastructure bill directs $7.5 billion toward building out America's network of electric vehicle chargers. File Photo by Sarah Silbiger/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 10 (UPI) -- With the $1.75 trillion infrastructure bill ready for President Joe Biden's signature, communities across the U.S. are getting a clearer picture of what projects are coming.

There's funding for ferries in Alaska, removing lead pipes in Michigan, a fix to a stretch of interstate in South Carolina called "Malfunction Junction" and others.

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Proponents of the bill, which passed the House Friday, say it will put millions to work weatherizing homes, upgrading aging roads and bridges, bringing broadband to rural areas and making improvements to airports and public transit.

"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," Dennis D. Truax, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, said in a statement, noting that his organization gave the nation's infrastructure a "C-" in its most recent report card. "When this happens, American households and businesses are the ones who pay the price."

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Also included in the bill is $10 billion to clean up PFAS, toxic substances found near military bases that have been called "forever chemicals" because they don't break down in the environment.

Another provision mandates that new cars include a technology designed to detect if drivers are impaired and stop the vehicles, which Mothers Against Drunk Driving says could prevent 9,400 drunk-driving deaths annually.

Included in more regionally targeted funding is $84 million to help California protect against increasingly destructive wildfires over the next five years, along with money for other projects.

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However, an opinion piece published by the online news website CalMatters called the amount of funding directed to the state "small potatoes."

"In a state with nearly 40 million residents, a $3 trillion economy and a $200-plus billion state budget, spending an extra $45.5 billion over five years is the proverbial drop in the bucket," it said.

An analysis by CNBC found that sparsely populated Vermont, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska would see higher per capita spending with at least $3,500 per resident. California, the country's most-populated state, would see less than $1,250 per resident.

RELATED Infrastructure bill includes $15B to fix dangerous lead water pipes

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, helped negotiate the bipartisan bill. Alaska's KTOO reports that Murkowski likely had a hand in creating a new program for "essential ferry service" for rural areas like her home state. The bill also includes $250 million for a pilot project to buy low-carbon ferries.

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The Indian Health Service will receive $3.5 billion from the bill to build sanitation facilities, Garrett Boyle, co-chairman of an Alaska infrastructure commission, told the station.

"I think we might finally see a significant advance in building out water and sewer projects in villages that have never had piped water before," Boyle said.

Other communities will see money for wildlife and environmental restoration projects, including $5.2 million annually for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The bill includes $1 billion for a proposal developed by members of the Congressional Black Caucus to reconnect urban neighborhoods that were divided by highway construction, such as Philadelphia's Nicetown and Chinatown.

In Oregon, transportation officials are eyeing that pot of money for planned upgrades to the Rose Quarter, a stretch of Interstate 5, that includes reconnecting the streetscape of a historically Black part of Portland, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

Michigan, a state that's long struggled with the legacy of industrial pollution, will see $1 billion for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, as part of its $10 billion share, reports MLive.com. Michigan cities of Flint and Benton Harbor have seen drinking water crises over lead-contaminated pipes. The bill includes ​​$1.3 billion to improve water infrastructure and remove lead service lines.

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The bill includes $15 billion to fix dangerous lead pipes spread throughout the country.

However, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a progressive Democrat who represents some of Michigan's most-polluted areas, voted against the infrastructure bill.

She said in a statement that she voted against it because the Build Back Better social spending bill should have been brought up at the same time. She also said the bill didn't go far enough and "guts" the National Environmental Policy Act.

"While [the bill] includes some positive provisions, and in particular some funding for lead pipe replacement that I hope will come straight to Michigan, it would also make communities like those I represent less safe, less healthy and less protected from corporate polluters," she said.

Elsewhere, local officials and commuters are looking to the bill to fund projects that will solve longstanding headaches.

South Carolina is expected to spend parts of its roughly $10 billion fixing a section of interstate outside Columbia, best known as "Malfunction Junction," The State reported.

Everywhere can expect to see more electric vehicles as a result of the bill. The United States' market share of plug-in electric vehicles is only one-third the size of China, according to the White House. The legislation directs $7.5 billion toward building out its network of electric vehicle chargers.

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That could make a big difference in places like Kansas, which is at the bottom for electric vehicle infrastructure because the state bans manufacturers from selling them directly to consumers, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported. The state is expected to get $40 million to boost its charging infrastructure.

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