While many have celebrated the passing of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill this past fall, it is important to keep in mind that these exceedingly rare, large infusions of money are not the best approach to meeting the long-term needs of infrastructure in the United States. Designing, building, operating, and maintaining infrastructure is a never-ending process that can impact communities in many different ways. Recipients of funding from this infrastructure bill, especially those whose responsibilities include funding infrastructure, should use this opportunity to look at the infrastructure needs in their community, how they are funded, and what actions can be taken moving forward to implement infrastructure funding in a sustainable way.
At the core there are two options when it comes to infrastructure and long-term needs: either increase funding (generally taxes through a variety of potential mechanisms) to meet the construction and maintenance needs or decrease the amount of infrastructure that must be built and maintained. How each approach is implemented (increase funding or decrease infrastructure) will vary community to community. But what is important is that the communities need to have conversations around these topics, taking into consideration the equity and community impacts, so that responsible and sustainable infrastructure decisions can be made.
Another area of importance to consider is the interconnectedness of different types of infrastructure. For example, electricity (regardless of the generation source) is vital to the operation of pretty much every other type of infrastructure. The infrastructure bill included $108 billion to upgrade the nation’s electricity grid, which includes the construction of new transmission lines. This is a needed investment, but measures need to be put into place so that the investment in these new lines (and other upgrades) do not fall victim to under-funded long-term maintenance. The same can be said for the $39 million for transit, which includes the repair of busses, railcars, and thousands of miles of track. Or the $65 billion for broadband, which includes expanding infrastructure.
Roads and highways always get a lot of attention because they are so visible. However, it is important to keep in mind that there is a lot of infrastructure below roads and bridges that needs to be maintained and eventually replaced as well. Examples include infrastructure related to water, wastewater, stormwater, communications, and electricity, among others. Repair and replacement of these underground facilities cannot always be done utilizing minimal or no-dig approaches (trenchless). Investment spent on repair and replacement of these facilities underneath the road can also mean that the road will have to be replaced as the project is restored. Coordination of infrastructure projects is essential to maximizing the impact of infrastructure funding, minimizing the impact to the public, and all the while working to provide infrastructure that will serve generations to come.
One somewhat ironic part of the infrastructure bill is the $7.5 billion for electric-vehicle chargers along highway corridors. Expansion of electric vehicle charging stations is essential for further adoption and expansion of electric vehicles. However, the Highway Trust Fund, and many state highway funds, are primarily funded through a fuel (gas) tax. At the federal level, the fuel tax has not been increased since 1993. In essence, this expansion of electric vehicle charging stations will further contribute to the reduction in funding for the Highway Trust Fund under the current structure.
As new infrastructure projects move forward, especially associated with funding from the infrastructure bill, I would encourage elected officials, board members, citizens, and any other stakeholders at any level of government to ask about what long-term provisions are in place to protect and maintain these investments. This infrastructure bill is the largest investment in infrastructure in the United States since the interstate highway system. Let’s all work together to make sure that this investment is fully maximized through the long-term planning for operation, maintenance, and eventual replacement of infrastructure.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email Editor@Hstoday.us.