Home » Critical Infrastructure » The Future of U.S. Infrastructure, Part One

The Future of U.S. Infrastructure, Part One

January 19, 2022


As the dust settles following the passage of the 2021 infrastructure bill — formally the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) — the bipartisan members of Congress who passed the bill deserve a lot of credit for both their foresight and their courage. For years, both sides of the political aisle have insisted America needed to invest more in its crumbling infrastructure. Nevertheless, moving forward nearly proved to be a Sisyphean task. Following his election victory in 2016, former President Donald Trump stated, “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”[1] Unfortunately, Democrats didn’t want to give him a political victory that could be used to bolster his re-election campaign and, as a result, no infrastructure legislation was passed during the Trump administration.


When President Joe Biden took office, the Republicans were determined to return the favor. The political brawl over the latest bill was particularly brutal. Congressional correspondent Catie Edmondson (@CatieEdmondson) reports, “The 13 Republican lawmakers who broke with their party to support a $1 trillion bipartisan public works bill have drawn anger and threats from their colleagues and constituents. … The vicious reaction to the passage of the bill, which was negotiated by a group of Republicans and Democrats determined to deliver on a bipartisan priority, reflects how deeply polarization has seeped into the political discourse within the Republican Party, making even the most uncontroversial legislation a potentially toxic vote.”[2] Voting for the bill took both political and moral courage.


Lost in this party-over-country bickering were the needs of the nation. As political commentator Fareed Zakaria (@FareedZakaria) explains, “The need to fix America’s crumbling infrastructure has become a weary cliché — but that doesn’t change the fact that it is indeed falling apart. And just as is the case with any kind of deferred maintenance, the longer we wait, the worse the problem becomes — and the more expensive it will be to fix.”[3]


Why an Infrastructure Bill Was Needed


For a score of years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has awarded a grade of “D” to America’s infrastructure as roads deteriorated, bridges rusted, and waterways clogged. Although this year’s report card, issued early in 2021, gave U.S. infrastructure a grade of “C-“, ASCE concluded, “The 10-year infrastructure investment gap now stands at $2.6 trillion, up from $2.1 trillion in 2017.”[4] The IIJA helps close that gap. Despite the former President’s protestations that the IIJA is a “‘Non-Infrastructure’ Bill,” ASCE reports, “The bill addresses 17 of the 17 categories outlined in ASCE’s 2021 Infrastructure Report Card and addresses more than 40 of the solutions laid out in ASCE’s report.”


Both Red and Blue states will benefit from infrastructure upgrades. Zakaria notes, “In the 1950s and ’60s, infrastructure spending as a percent of gross domestic product was over 1 percent. In 2019, decades later and with an exponentially bigger economy, spending was at about 0.7 percent of GDP. The new surge of spending from the bill will raise it to about 1.3 percent over the next five years. And the bill has many good ideas to encourage private investments that would increase these numbers.” ASCE created the following video saluting Congress’ action.



Infrastructure upgrades aren’t just needed because existing infrastructure is falling apart. New conditions, brought about by climate change, also make infrastructure upgrades an imperative. Journalists Arian Campo-Flores (@acampoflores) and Katherine Blunt (@KatherineBlunt) observe, “Across America, historically anomalous weather is overwhelming infrastructure and government systems designed to withstand the weather of the past, forcing cities and utilities to rethink resiliency plans.”[5] According to journalists Coral Davenport (@CoralMDavenport) and Christopher Flavelle (@cflav), infrastructure upgrades that address climate change are included in the IIJA. They report, “The measure includes $47 billion to help communities prepare for the new age of extreme fires, floods, storms and droughts that scientists say are worsened by human-caused climate change.”[6]


What’s In the IIJA?


ASCE reports, “The IIJA includes a reauthorization of our surface transportation programs, the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act, as well as an additional $559 billion in new spending that is a combination of targeted funds for overdue state of good repair projects, but also forward-looking programs and policy to make our infrastructure more resilient.”[7] They add, “These funds include: $110 billion for roads, bridges, and major projects; $66 billion for passenger and freight rail; $65 billion for broadband internet; $46 billion for resilience to help states and cities prepare for droughts, wildfires, climate change, and more; $39 billion for public transit; and $17 billion for ports and waterways. The IIJA reflects a hard-fought compromise agreement and a show of commitment from Congress to make a significant down payment on America’s physical infrastructure assets, and to give local communities the flexibility they need to design solutions for today’s complex challenges.” Bloomberg analysts provide a little more detail about how money in each of the categories is supposed to be used.[8]


Roads and Bridges ($110 Billion). “This includes $40 billion for bridge repairs and replacement, as well as about $16 billion for major projects. It also will reauthorize the surface transportation program for the next five years.”


Public Transit ($39 Billion). “The plan includes an extra $39 billion to modernize transit and improve accessibility. In addition, the deal will continue existing transit programs for five years as part of the surface transportation reauthorization.”


Railways ($66 Billion). “The deal will allocate $66 billion to Amtrak for maintenance, to upgrade tracks in the Northeast Corridor and bring rail service — including high-speed rail — to other areas of the country.”


Power Grids ($65 Billion). “The deal includes about $65 billion for power grid upgrades, including building thousands of miles of new transmission lines for renewable energy as well as research for new technologies like nuclear reactors and carbon capture.”


Electric Vehicles, Electric Buses, and Ferries ($12.5 Billion). “The law will spend $7.5 billion to build a nationwide network of charging stations for electric vehicles to help accelerate the adoption of non-fossil fuel cars. … The plan [also] includes $5 billion for new school buses, although the program will allow half of that to go toward buses that run on natural gas or diesel. The plan also includes $2.5 billion for ferries.”


Airports and Waterways ($42 Billion). “The plan will provide $25 billion for airport repairs and efforts to reduce congestion and emissions. That includes encouraging the use of electric and other low-carbon technologies. It will also invest $17 billion in port infrastructure.”


Resilience, Climate Change, and Environmental Spending ($71 Billion). “The legislation includes $50 billion to help communities mitigate climate change and ward off cyber attacks. The funds include money to protect against droughts and floods. … The law [also] has $21 billion dedicated for environmental remediation to address past pollution that harms public health.”


Drinking Water ($55 Billion). “The package spends $55 billion to improve drinking water, including dedicated funding to replace lead pipes and remove dangerous chemicals.”


Broadband Internet ($65 Billion). “The plan will invest $65 billion in high-speed internet to ensure that every household can access reliable broadband service.”


Transportation Safety ($12 Billion). “The plan will spend $11 billion on transportation safety, including programs to reduce crashes and fatalities, especially for cyclists and pedestrians. The plan also includes $1 billion to reconnect communities that have been divided by past infrastructure projects, such as highways splicing through established areas.”


Despite the large numbers involved, ASCE calls these investments only a good down payment on what is really needed. In the concluding installment of this article, I will discuss how various industries have reacted to the enactment of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.


[1] Laura Bliss, “How Trump’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Pledge Added Up,” Bloomberg CityLab, 16 November 2020.
[2] Catie Edmondson, “House Republicans Who Backed Infrastructure Bill Face Vicious Backlash,” The New York Times,
[3] Fareed Zakaria, “Spending on infrastructure might not be sexy. But it’s even more important than you think.” The Washington Post, 18 November 2021.
[4] Chris Teale, “US infrastructure funding gap swells to $2.6 trillion: ASCE,” Smart Cities Dive, 4 March 2021.
[5] Arian Campo-Flores and Katherine Blunt, “America’s Infrastructure Struggles With New Weather Forecast,” The Wall Street Journal, 15 November 2021.
[6] Coral Davenport and Christopher Flavelle, “Infrastructure Bill Makes First Major U.S. Investment in Climate Resilience,” The New York Times, 6 November 2021.
[7] Caroline Sevier, “Congress Passes Historic Infrastructure Bill,” American Society of Civil Engineers, 5 November 2021.
[8] Bloomberg, “Biden Signed the $550 Billion Infrastructure Deal. Here’s Who Gets the Money.” SupplyChainBrain, 16 November 2021.

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