By Ryan Curtiss, Digital Editor
This fall, the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) celebrates its second anniversary. To commemorate this milestone, we want to examine its contents, the funding, and what the future holds.
Before we get to that, let’s look at how we got here. It can’t be overstated how dire of a situation this is: According to the Report Card for America’s Infrastructure in 2021, which is released by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), our infrastructure received an overall grade of C-.
That C- is the average score: 11 categories earned a D, four got a C, and only two reached B.
This 2021 report marked the first time our infrastructure grade had risen in 20 years. This is an alarming thing to say, but it’s true: America’s infrastructure has been deteriorating for decades, and we have failed to invest in its rehabilitation.
Until now, of course. The IIJA is a $1.2 trillion investment into our infrastructure. However, there was a moment that should have been America’s tipping point on the issue.
On August 1, 2007, the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in downtown Minneapolis collapsed during rush hour. This should have been the first and last wakeup call for the nation: 13 people died and 145 were injured when the eight-lane, three-span section fell into the river.
The National Transportation Safety Board said a design flaw in the bridge was the main cause of the collapse. A crucial gusset plate that held the bridge’s beams together were only half as thick as they should have been.
After the collapse, Minnesota launched a 10-year, $2.5 billion improvement program that targeted 172 structurally deficient or fracture critical bridges. Unfortunately, it took this tragedy as a sign to fix the problem with Minnesota’s failing infrastructure.
However, it’s hard to keep up with needed improvements without proper investment. According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, 35% of the state’s bridges are more than 50 years old, with over 600 labeled as being in poor condition.
Almost 15 years later, the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh, injuring 10 people thanks to a snow storm that kept people off the road that morning. There were no fatalities. However, the collapse served as a reminder that not enough had been done following the tragedy in Minnesota. The Fern Hollow Bridge accident gained national attention because it fell hours before President Biden was scheduled to visit the city and, ironically enough, speak about infrastructure.
States and local governments have delayed fixing their infrastructure for years because the funding hasn’t been available.
States have been paying down debt for years, having to put infrastructure projects on the back burner, and the citizens have adopted the cost.
From 2015-2020, non-defense infrastructure funding was the lowest in the history of infrastructure spending. For a bit of background, since 1929, the U.S. has had an economic output of $678 trillion, but has only invested $19.1 trillion in infrastructure, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic analysis.
The U.S. has ranked among the lowest in infrastructure investment since 2007. We ranked 53 out of 56 countries for which the data is available.
Of the $1.2 trillion in the IIJA, $643 billion, or 54%, is slated for surface transportation. The rest of the funding goes to various non-surface transportation infrastructure such as broadband with $65 billion, and water with $55 billion.
About $76.6 billion of the funds will be won through competitive grants, which is approximately 39% of the IIJA, with the other 61% being formula grants. Despite being the minority of the funding, the competitive grants make up most of the programs that are available.
Counties are playing a huge role in the infrastructure and transportation network. Collectively, counties own and operate 38% of bridges and 44% of public roads—more than any government level. Additionally, counties directly support 34% of airports, and 78% of public transit systems. It’s important to keep in mind that counties invest $60 billion in construction of public affairs, $22 billion in sewage and solid waste management, and over $122 billion in building infrastructure and maintaining and operating public works per year, according to the National Association of Counties.
Although $1.2 trillion seems like a lot, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimate that if we fail to fix our infrastructure, the American people will inherit the cost to the tune of $14 trillion by 2040.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the IIJA will create 4 million jobs per year on average.
Broadband implementation will deliver access to healthcare, business opportunities, and further education and more, to disadvantaged communities. According to a study by the Hudson Institute, broadband access supported 69,595 jobs in 2015.
Along with better internet access and job growth, the IIJA promises to lift up communities with improved roads and bridges.
Hawaii, although a beautiful vacation destination, has the worst roads in America. On the most recent Infrastructure Report Card, Hawaii’s roads received a D+. Residents spend an average of $818 per person inheriting the expenses of the deteriorating roads. Rehabilitating and reconstructing roads will lower costs for taxpayers.
The IIJA also will improve safety for communities. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, almost half of all roadway fatalities happen in rural areas, despite those communities only accounting for 19% of the population. On top of that, the fatality rate on rural roads is almost twice as high than in urban areas.
Two years in, the IIJA’s rollout has been tedious, but in the end it will be worth it.
By 2026, $350 billion a year will have been provided to states, cities, territories, and tribal lands from Federal Highway programs.
California, Texas, and Florida have received the most funding thus far, according to the White House. Most of those projects are in the planning stage. Less populated states, such as Alaska, which has been awarded $4.9 Billion, are receiving more money per capita.
To date, the IIJA has been crucial in launching over 2,800 bridge repair and replacement projects across the country. Although this is just the beginning, the results should be encouraging.
Overall, more than 32,000 projects have been awarded funding from the IIJA.
According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, through February 28, 2023, states have committed $9.9 billion in highway and bridge formula funds to support over 10,000 new projects.This is in addition to $53.5 billion in investment and over 29,000 new projects supported in 2022.
So many great things are coming out of the IIJA: new and rehabilitated roads and bridges, programs for resiliency, energy efficiency, a push for a greener tomorrow, greater access to transportation, and improved mobility.
These investments in local and regional transportation networks will improve quality of life. On top of that, updating our transportation network will be useful for future generations.
This won’t be easy. The IIJA is a long law to read, and its rules are difficult to understand.
Research is needed to ensure IIJA grants are awarded. Community needs should be addressed, and proposals should be aimed at tackling those issues. The funding is there to help each community. But it’s going to take a lot of work. Is America up to the challenge after decades of half-measures? Only time will tell. R&B