What’s up with the Infrastructure Act?
Last Thursday, October 19th, The Volcker Alliance and the Penn Institute for Urban Research sponsored a fascinating webinar titled: “Rolling Out the $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure & Jobs Act – “What’s Being Built and What’s in the Pipeline.”
The panel included Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR); Samantha Silverberg, deputy infrastructure implementation coordinator at the White House; Alison Premo Black, senior vice president and chief economist, American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA); Leah Brooks, professor, Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Administration, George Washington University; Jessica Jennings, legislative director for transportation and infrastructure, National Association of Counties, and Vikram Rai, lead strategist, Wells Fargo municipal division.
It was moderated by William Glasgall, Volcker Alliance senior director, public finance and Penn IUR fellow, and Susan Wachter, co-director of Penn IUR.
The panel discussion was wide-ranging – as might be expected from such a significant topic – but here are a few of the most interesting takeaways. You can enjoy an audio version of the webinar yourself by clicking here.
Infrastructure Week is no longer a punch line,” said the White House’s Silverberg. “We are delivering an infrastructure decade and the scope and the scale of the bill is really unprecedented.”
$300 billion has already been provided by the federal government to states and local governments. There are over 38,000 projects across more than 4,500 communities in all 50 states, DC and the territories.
Beyond the federal investment, states and localities are making their own investments, including 25 states that have raised their own transportation revenues.
The early projects are already starting to be built, and “we’re seeing boots on the ground,” reported ARTBA’s Black.
A big bottleneck is a shortage of workforce to do the necessary work. Openings in construction are at a very high level and the construction unemployment rate is very low. Contractors would be hiring even more workers if they could get the supply.
Counties are a major part of this effort. In fact, 45% of public road miles and 40% of bridges are owned by the counties.
One discouraging finding: More than 70% of vehicle chargers are in the wealthiest counties in the United States and nearly 100% are in majority white counties.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer: “I’ve worked with five different administrations on infrastructure issues with varying degrees of success and enthusiasm. This is the first time we have a commitment, unequivocally, to be able to rebuild and renew America. It’s a refreshing change . . .This is an administration that is committed not just to moving money out the door to fund projects. They are committed to the right ones, to provide a low carbon and equitable future.”
“Infrastructure costs more in the US than it does in almost any other country in the world,” reported the Trachtenberg School’s Brooks. “And you might not be surprised that it costs more in the US than it does in developing countries. But you might be surprised to hear that it costs us substantially more than in . . . other countries like Germany or Australia.”
An unexpected challenge to the progress that can be made with the $1.2 trillion that is being spent has been an unanticipated increase in interest rates. Since the passage of the IGA, rates are u p 3.3%
One way to provide ongoing revenues for roads and bridges is through user fees, as opposed to gas taxes. But said Blumenauer, “Congress after Congress, we’ve had massive displays of support for user fees from the US Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO . . . and local government. We’ve had everybody support it except the public and the politicians.”