WASHINGTON – The United States Senate passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, the largest upgrade to the country’s roads, bridges, pipes and broadband in decades.
The package contains $550 billion in entirely new investments, including money for electric car charging stations and zero-admission schools buses. The spending is mostly paid for without raising taxes. The bulk of the funding comes from repurposing unspent covid relief money and tightening enforcement on reporting gains from cryptocurrency investments. The bill would add about $256 billion to the debt, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The plan garnered significant support from both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, but there are still a few steps to go before it becomes law. It must also pass the House of Representatives, where tweaks are expected. Then the House and Senate will hash out their differences before sending a final bill to President Joe Biden.
While the final bill might change somewhat, here is a rundown of what is in the 2,700 pages of the Senate’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Total new spending: $550 billion. The bipartisan bill is a lot less than the $2.3 billion Biden initially asked for in the spring, but it’s still a significant amount of funding for the next five years. The senators often like to refer to the bill as a $1.2 trillion package because they are also counting funding that’s normally allotted each year for highways and other projects.
The spending is partially paid for with unused COVID relief dollars, unused federal unemployment aid, sales of spectrum and oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, increased feeds for some superfund sites and some customs, and delaying a Medicare expense for a year. Some money would also come from tighter enforcement to ensure cryptocurrency investors pay taxes once they sell and realize their gains. Budget experts say the bill is likely to add about $350 billion to the deficit over the next decade. On top of CBO’s forecast, they say another $90 billion must be included since the bill “authorizes” that spending even though it’s not technically counted as spent.
How many jobs would it create? Senators and the White House are touting the huge number of jobs this bill would help generate. Many construction jobs do not require college degrees, though they do require some special skills. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, estimates about 650,000 jobs could result by 2025. Interestingly, construction has been one of the few slow job growth industries in recent months. The bill includes funding and provisions to get more job training programs going and to get more women into the construction and trucking industries.
What happened with crypto? The bill was held up for several days over a debate about a provision that would require more stringent reporting of cryptocurrency gains and losses to the Internal Revenue Service. The goal is to ensure crypto investors are paying taxes properly, but there was concern that the language was so broad that developers who worked on crypto would also face taxation. In the end, the Senate did not change the language in this bill, but Treasury has vowed it will not go after the developers.
Roads and bridges: $110 billion. The biggest ticket item in the bill is money for building and repairing roads and bridges across the country. Many senators are already touting projects in their home states that will benefit from the funding. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Va., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, were both instrumental in crafting the bipartisan plan and it’s notable that the bill includes specific funding earmarked for Appalachian and Alaskan highways. There’s also funding for transportation research at universities, funding for Puerto Rico’s highways and even money for “congestion relief” efforts in cities.
Railroads: $66 billion. America’s passenger rail system, a favorite of Biden’s, receives a large chunk of funding for upgrades and maintenance. There is substantial funding earmarked for the Northeast Corridor, the heavily traveled route from Boston to Washington D.C. The bill also has money for freight rail safety and calls for stations that average 40 passengers a day to have an agent on duty. Some were disappointed that the bill does not specifically call for high-speed rail investment as other countries have.
Power grid: $65 billion. The plan has substantial funding for “grid reliability and resiliency,” a fancy way of saying updates to older power lines and cables and investments in ways to ensure the power grid is not hacked. As part of the bill’s efforts to address climate change, the power grid section also has funding to support the development and adaptation of clean energy technology.
Broadband: $65 billion. There’s a major focus in the bill on expanding broadband in rural areas and low-income communities. This has been a bipartisan priority for years, but the White House estimates that about 30 million Americans still don’t have reliable Internet access, which became a major issue for schooling and work during the pandemic. About $14 billion of the funding would go toward making monthly Internet bills more affordable for low-income Americans.
Water (especially pipes): $55 billion. After the Flint, Mich., lead contamination crisis, there’s a renewed focus on ensuring America’s water infrastructure gets upgraded. The bill includes $15 billion specifically for lead pipe replacement. There’s also $10 billion to clean up man-made chemicals known as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances. The bill also sets aside money for clean drinking water for Tribal communities.
“Resilience”: $47 billion. The resiliency funding falls mainly into two categories: cybersecurity and climate change mitigation. There is funding to help protect infrastructure from attacks along with funding to address droughts, flooding, wildfire mitigation, coastal erosion and other big issues impacting many parts of the nation as weather patterns become more extreme.
Public transit: $39 billion. Senators and the White House has been citing a Transportation Department estimate that 40 percent of buses and 23 percent of subway and rail cars are in poor shape. The funding would go a long way toward upgrades. There’s also money for new bus routes and making public transit more accessible to seniors and Americans with disabilities.
Airports: $25 billion. Biden famously described New York City’s LaGuardia Airport in 2014 as a “Third World country” airport. The bill contains funding for major upgrades and expansions at U.S. airports. About $5 billion would go specifically toward upgrading air traffic control towers and systems.
Remediation: $21 billion. This part of the bill includes funds to clean up brownfield and superfund sites, abandoned mines, and old oil and gas wells that need to be plugged.
Ports: $17 billion. There is a significant investment in various port infrastructure. About half the money goes for the Army Corps of Engineers. There is also money for the Coast Guard and, ferry terminals and efforts to reduce truck emissions at ports.
Safety: $11 billion. The bulk of the funding in this section is for highway safety, but there is also funding for pedestrian safety, pipeline safety and even ways to prevent crashes into animals.
Western water infrastructure: $8 billion. As parts of the west continue to suffer droughts, the bill designates several billion to invest in water treatment, storage and reuse facilities to help mitigate these issues. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) was one of the major negotiators of the package and her state is one of many out west that has had drought issues in recent years.
Electric vehicle charging stations: $7.5 billion. The United States currently has about 43,000 charging stations. Biden has set a goal of having half of new cars electric by 2030, which will require significantly more charging stations across the nation.
Electric school buses: $7.5 billion. The bill makes a major push to replace existing school buses with zero emissions buses. Specific funding is set aside to help lower-income, rural and Tribal communities replace their bus fleets.
What else is in the bill? There was a major lobbying frenzy for this package, and the result is many small provisions tucked in the bill to aid different groups. For example, there is funding for salmon recovery, requirements that states enforce open container laws that prevent open alcoholic beverages in cars, and a provision allowing states to use some of their funding for recreational trails. There is also money for research on “wildlife crossing safety” and money for a “healthy streets” program to expand tree cover to mitigate urban heat. And, perhaps a favorite of avid train riders like Biden, there’s a line in the bill encouraging more food and beverage services on Amtrak routes, even if revenue don’t break even.
The bill also attempts to fast-track permitting for infrastructure projects, an issue the Trump Administration also attempted to address.