As more details emerge about the new federal infrastructure package, the scale of its impact in and around Seattle and across Washington is coming more sharply into focus— and it’s big.
Under the $1.2 trillion dollar Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which Congress approved late Friday, Washington will see nearly $8.6 billion in dedicated funds and billions more in potential grants for everything from highways and bridges to electric vehicle charging stations and broadband to public transit and safer drinking water.
The result will be a massive, necessary boost for a state where infrastructure construction and funding hasn’t kept up with population growth or economic expansion.
“We view it as a game changer,” said Peter Rogoff, CEO of Sound Transit, which will get around $380 million in dedicated funding for the regional light rail system, and will also compete for federal grants available in the measure, which contains around $550 billion in new spending.
Under the IIJA package, Washington over the next five years will receive around $4.7 billion for highways and $605 million for bridges and another $1.8 billion in public transportation spending; $882 million to improve drinking water infrastructure and safety; and $385 million for the state’s airports, including $228 million for Sea-Tac International Airport and $16 million for Paine Field in Snohomish County, according to estimates provided by the White House.
There’s also $100 million to expand access to broadband internet to nearly a quarter million state residents who don’t have it and $71 million to expand the state’s electric vehicle charging network; and even funds for salmon recovery, including $1 billion for national efforts to remove stream culverts.
“Add this all up and it is billions and billions of dollars for Washington State,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, who helped negotiate the House measure, which passed 228 to 206.
But there was also local disappointment over what wasn’t in the IIJA.
Missing were several earlier, more ambitious proposals to cut carbon emissions to reduce climate change. Also absent were earlier proposals to expand the infrastructure concept to include such things as child care and paid leave, which is “really important to families with young kids,” said Jennie Romich, a professor in the University of Washington School of Social Work and an expert in poverty and social policy. Despite efforts by progressive Democrats, Romich said, “the ‘child care is infrastructure’ argument didn’t make it in.”
Many of those ideas had been in more expansive, and expensive, proposals by the White House and progressive House Democrats, but were gradually stripped away in the face of strong resistance by party moderates and Republicans.
Democrats plan to include some of those proposals in a separate $1.75 trillion measure dubbed the Build Back Better Act. That’s expected to bring yet another showdown between party moderates and progressives, with Jayapal and Washington Democratic Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray playing key roles.
Still, the IIJA includes what many are calling historic amounts of federal cash for much-needed infrastructure improvements in Washington, where critics say infrastructure spending has lagged for years.
The state has 416 bridges and more than 5,400 miles of highway that are in poor condition, according to a White House summary of the infrastructure package.
The IIJA will also help Washington’s airports and marine ports keep up with the state’s rapidly expanding population and export-focused economy, Cantwell said.
“Our trade and port infrastructure really employs a lot of people in our state, and it’s really key to our competitiveness,” Cantwell said. “Because if someone doesn’t think their product can move quickly through our ports, they’ll choose other places.”
That trade focus is expected to help Washington secure a large share of the grant funding offered under the legislation. The IIJA includes multibillion dollar grants that Washington and local governments and agencies can bid for and potentially use on projects such as marine port upgrades, improved rail crossings and even a new bridge between Washington and Oregon. Washington’s large port sector, a key export conduit for goods from the Midwest and other regions, makes the state a top contender for funding, Congressional aides said.
The boosts in grant funding are also expected to help lower the region’s share in the rising costs of Sound Transit light rail, said Rogoff. For example, where the federal share of the Federal Way and Lynnwood expansion costs was just 25% and 36%, respectively, Sound Transit hopes to get “a much higher federal share” for West Seattle, Tacoma and Everett expansions under the infrastructure measure, Rogoff said.
“And obviously every dollar we get from the federal government to build out those projects is one less dollar that our local taxpayers need to pay for those same projects,” he said.
Policy experts cautioned against expecting an immediate impact from the infrastructure measure.
Unlike much of the federal spending in the pandemic, which was aimed at bailing out laid-off workers or struggling businesses, “this is not a quick stimulus injection,” said James McCafferty, a director at the Center for Economic and Business Research at Western Washington University.
“You can’t design a road or bridge and build it overnight,” added Debra Glassman, a teaching professor of finance and business economics at the University of Washington Foster School of Business. “We’ll be seeing the effects roll out over a period of years. At the end of that time, we’ll look back and be able to see that this bill was big and transformational.”