1 of 7 | Construction workers begin repairing the section of Interstate 95 that collapsed after a truck accident in Philadelphia on June 17. File Photo by Laurence Kesterston/UPI | License Photo
CLIVE, Iowa, July 25 (UPI) -- State, county and city leaders across the United States are prioritizing projects to improve roads, repair bridges, remove lead water lines and deliver high-speed Internet to underserved communities with funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
President Joe Biden has highlighted some of the marquee projects to receive funding during his "Investing in America" tour, such as the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel replacement.
But there are many more projects coming, and some of the most impactful ones don't get ribbon cuttings.
"The intent is to address our aging infrastructure," Keith Pugh, American Public Works Association president, told UPI. "We've got some failing grades in our infrastructure. There's a lot of maintenance that needs to take place."
Crumbling roads, bridges
When Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, also known as Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, on Nov. 15, 2021, the American Society of Civil Engineers reported that more than 45,000 bridges and 1 in every 5 miles of roadway were in poor condition.
Traffic congestion, particularly in major metropolitan areas, remains a disruptive issue for daily commuters. Los Angeles leads the nation with an average of more than 7 hours of traffic congestion per day, according to the Department of Transportation. Seattle, Portland, Ore., Washington, Denver and San Francisco average more than 6 hours per day.
Congestion is worsened by the diminishing quality of roads. This also adds to the average cost of car repairs. In New York, drivers spend an estimated $625 a year due to driving on more than 7,000 miles of highway that is in poor condition.
Failing and inequitably built infrastructure also creates health crises. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates there are 6 million to 10 million lead water service lines in the United States. Exposure to lead poisoning can create irreversible health problems.
About $10 billion will reach New York's state, county and municipal governments. But with its broad array of needs, there will always be a need for more federal and state funding. The state's water infrastructure, including drinking water and wastewater, is in perhaps the most need of updating, Infrastructure Coordinator Minelly De Coo said.
"The state of our water infrastructure is so severe that there isn't enough money at the federal or state level to do all of the work that needs to be done," De Coo told UPI.
As of May 26, California, Texas and New York have received the most announced funding through the infrastructure law, according to the General Services Administration.
California has received $20.1 billion, with about 75% going to transportation projects. Texas has received $15.2 billion and about 83% of its announced projects are related to transportation. New York has received $10.9 billion and allocated 82% to transportation.
Funding has been allocated to all states and U.S. territories, including American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
With the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Biden administration recommended that all states and territories appoint an infrastructure coordinator to ensure each state can obtain and appropriately use its grant.
Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu was appointed the federal infrastructure coordinator.
About 60% of the funding goes directly to states for the state government to administer.
Clean energy, disaster mitigation
The infrastructure law authorizes several categories of funding related to disaster mitigation and emergency assistance. It expands the eligibility for federal-aid highway programs to include transportation resilience, including the $7.3 billion Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-saving Transportation Program. It authorizes $3.37 billion for wildfire risk reduction through fiscal year 2026 and $6.7 billion for flood mitigation assistance through FEMA.
An additional $1 billion has been added to the Disaster Relief Fund and $1 billion will be used through fiscal year 2025 for a grant program to help state and tribal governments address cybersecurity threats.
Jackson Wright, Louisiana's infrastructure coordinator, told UPI that his state faces tremendous infrastructure challenges due to the threats from climate change.
Climate-related projects are a priority for Gov. John Bel Edwards. Of the $4.4 billion announced for the state, $920 million is being used for the resilience of infrastructure, $385 million for clean energy and the power grid, $92 million for environmental remediation and $77 million for electric vehicle charging, according to the state infrastructure dashboard.
"We have been very active in pursuing many grant programs, including both competitive and formula grants in the Grid Innovation Program for hardening our infrastructure," Wright said. "After Hurricane Ida, there was a long power outage here due to issues with the grid. We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to be innovative in that space."
Among those innovations is the HALO Hydrogen Hub, a three-state energy project that Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma have partnered on. An application for funding has been submitted but the reward has not yet been announced. Hydrogen hub projects are eligible to receive up to $1.25 billion in federal funding.
The HALO Hub would be built throughout the three states with the intention of ultimately connecting to a national hydrogen network.
"This is an extension of Louisiana's ongoing efforts in diversifying the makeup of our energy sources and ensuring an economically and environmentally balanced approach to cleaner use of traditional fuels and transition to new potential energy sources," Edwards said in a statement.
Along the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana has several infrastructure resilience projects in the works, such as the $25 million project to raise more than 8 miles of Highway 1 between Leeville and Golden Meadow, which will create a safer evacuation route in the case of a hurricane and flooding.
M. Leon Berrett, associate director for the Salt Lake County Public Works Department, said his county in Utah faces the potential for a drinking water crisis should it experience an earthquake. Many of its largest water lines cross the Wasatch Fault. If those water lines are broken, the city could be without clean water for months.
"There's a big push to create more funding to make those water lines more resilient," Berrett told UPI. "We're also looking at other underground utilities that sometimes get neglected.
Equitable building plans
How and where infrastructure spending has historically been dispersed has created inequities, particularly in communities and neighborhoods that are largely populated with minority groups, as well as tribal nations. The Biden administration launched the Justice40 Initiative to direct 40% of certain federal investments to disadvantaged communities, including infrastructure funds.
De Coo said New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is trying to secure as much funding as possible to undo the past wrongs of infrastructure buildout, tailoring funding to communities that have been underinvested in.
The state is especially focused on delivering clean water and providing quality broadband service. De Coo said that while Internet providers will claim that most residences have access to service, for many it is unreliable or unaffordable.
"We know the private sector is going to go where the money is and there's nothing wrong with that," she said. "That's where we strongly feel that the government has to come in and ensure that these communities aren't left behind."
Last month, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced that New York would receive $670 million to expand high-speed Internet.
"New York, under Governor Hochul's leadership, is leading the charge to get all New Yorkers the equitable access to the Internet they deserve, and this major federal investment will help finally give our communities the support they need to succeed in the 21st century," Schumer said in a statement.
De Coo has been waiting to see the Interstate 81 Viaduct Project come to light since her days as a young engineering intern collecting traffic data in Syracuse 15 years ago.
When the I-81 raised viaduct was built in 1966, it notoriously cut through historically Black neighborhoods and created a physical divide between communities. With it came an audible and visible nuisance that fell into disrepair..
Not all have been in favor of the $2.25 billion project to create a "Community Grid" that will reconnect the neighborhoods that were divided by the viaduct. An organization called Renew 81 For All unsuccessfully challenged the plans in court, citing environmental concerns.
The New York Civil Liberties Union, in an amicus brief, supported the project after holding forums to speak with hundreds of residents of the area.
"This is ensuring that we are again undoing the wrongs of the past in how we've invested in our infrastructure," De Coo said.
Louisiana lists 380 areas in the state as disadvantaged. Wright said Edwards has been "intentional" about focusing funding on those areas in alignment with the Justice40 Initiative.
"The governor often talks about this investment being once in a generation," Wright said. "He recognizes this is an opportunity to provide good jobs and to promote Louisiana-based, minority-owned and disadvantaged businesses. The benefits of this tremendous federal investment is not just felt by building new roads but by providing good jobs."