A $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill celebrates its first birthday | local politics

WASHINGTON – US Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Baton Rouge, recently recalled urging money to cap idle oil wells, a major problem in Louisiana, in negotiations for a massive federal infrastructure bill. He was challenged by Rep. Joshua S. Gottheimer, a Democrat from New Jersey.

Cassidy said he countered by asking why he should support more money for commuter trains, which is important in the Northeast. That was the moment, Cassidy said, when he and Gottheimer gave up their pastoral offices. No legislature would get what their constituents wanted by ignoring the needs of people in other parts of the country.

“It wasn’t a horse trade,” Cassidy said. “It was really an awareness that we’re a big country and if we got to grips with issues that would benefit one area, we could all benefit.”

That bill became the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Now, a year old, its terms are beginning to become clearer.

Congress had worked for years on legislation to improve the country’s decrepit infrastructure, but failed to pass anything. Compromises addressing regionally specific needs garnered enough votes for passage in a tightly divided Congress. President Joe Biden signed it into law on November 15, 2021.

That’s one of the reasons why the legislation runs to 2,702 pages. The money will be spent over several years on thousands of projects that will rebuild roads and bridges, expand access to safe drinking water, expand high-speed internet in underserved areas, and modernize seaports, airports and railroads.

“The act of the committee drafting the law was a marathon session — lasting almost 20 hours with more than 100 amendments and in-depth discussions,” recalled US Rep. Troy Carter, the New Orleans Democrat who had just won a special election and is in which he was overthrown the fight as a member of the House Transportation Committee.

“It was a wild way of getting into my congressional ministry,” Carter said.

“Under President Biden, ‘Infrastructure Decade’ is the headline,” Mitch Landrieu said on the first anniversary of the Infrastructure Act. Presidents up until the 1990s had tried but failed to secure overall funding from Congress to repair and modernize the country’s aging highways, bridges, ports, and other infrastructure.

As the White House infrastructure implementation coordinator, the former mayor of New Orleans oversees infrastructure spending for the Biden administration. Landrieu said more than $185 billion was spent in the first year on nearly 7,000 specific projects, reaching 4,000 communities in all 50 states.

Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, said the infrastructure “literally lays the foundation for private investment.”

“This law lays the foundation not only for a decade of infrastructure, but also for a decade of manufacturing in America by building a stronger backbone for supply chains,” Deese said.

Approximately $4 billion in funding has been announced and will go to 120 specific projects in Louisiana. This includes more than $3.1 billion in transportation investments in roads, bridges, public transit, ports and airports, and over $101 million in clean water. More than 341,000 homes across the state are already getting affordable internet with money from the law.

The state has 1,634 bridges and over 3,411 miles of highways that are in poor condition. Based on formula funding alone, Louisiana is expected to receive approximately $5.9 billion in federal highway and bridge funding over five years.

But the first year was aimed at getting coordinators in each state and applications for specific projects on the way. “Next year will be as much about execution, execution as this year was about planning and team formation,” said Landrieu.

Landrieu described two ways for locals to access the federal money. About 60% of dollars go through the traditional pipeline to the states, where governors and their lawmakers work with local officials to decide how to allocate the money. The second route is through competitive grants, in which municipalities and governments bid on specific projects and compete for money distributed by heads of cabinet agencies overseeing specific issues.

The law was passed by a bipartisan coalition, but Cassidy was the only Louisiana Republican to vote in favor of the measure.

Some Republicans blame infrastructure bill spending — along with measures related to the coronavirus pandemic and global warming — for a surge in inflation that has pushed up consumer goods prices.

Republican US Rep. Garret Graves of Baton Rouge says most infrastructure money is being sent to large states, mostly run by Democrats. Louisiana isn’t getting its fair share, he argues.

“Pick your program, you’ll see in every one that Louisiana didn’t do well,” said Graves, who sits on the House Transportation Committee.

Many people just look at the dollar amounts sent, he said, and don’t follow the often-muddled formulas that decide how much each state receives. He accuses the prioritization criteria of disproportionately benefiting other states.

For example, the existing standards used in ranking federal spending on local road projects include criteria such as “time savings in transit” and “fuel economy.” These criteria, already enshrined in law, helped Louisiana successfully compete for federal dollars.

But for Infrastructure Act projects under the U.S. Department of Transportation, Secretary Pete Buttigieg added metrics such as positive impacts on climate change, racial justice, environmental justice and improving union opportunities, Graves said.

Cassidy said that’s why it’s so important to have a representative from Louisiana in the middle of negotiations. For example, he said he made sure that definitions added to the law directed money toward expanding broadband in underserved or underserved communities, which covers the more than 400,000 households in Louisiana without an internet connection.

Of the $65 billion for nationwide high-speed internet, Louisiana will receive at least $100 million. In addition, according to the detailed legal definitions, up to 869,000 households are eligible for a program that reduces internet bills by up to $30 per month.

Biden didn’t want anyone left behind, so special attention was given to smaller communities that hadn’t received significant funding in the past, Landrieu said. Using the example of abandoned wells, sparsely populated rural communities have long been unable to obtain substantial funding to shut down oil wells that have been abandoned and sometimes leaking and often dangerous over the years. The law included population requirements and how much money local governments must raise to allow low-income rural areas to qualify, he said.

Landrieu said the premise of the year-long law is to make long-term, targeted investments that would benefit the country’s economy. “The reality is that this is just the beginning,” he added.