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At long last, it’s Infrastructure Week4 min read

Week, month, maybe decade. Who knows? The point is after years of talking about America’s crumbling infrastructure, and talking, and talking, and talking, we might finally have gotten somewhere.

No promises, though.

The media would have you believe the start of Joe Biden’s presidency has been an unmitigated disaster, and while declaring that a whole 21% of the way through his first term is a bold choice, well, maybe it could be going better? I don’t know. Negotiating transformative legislation seems kind of hard when there’s one guy who is really into fossil fuels and the idea that you need bipartisan support to justify letting mothers stay home with their newborns. But aside from the fact that an over-70-year-old man probably shouldn’t be making a decision about when mothers return to work, what do I know, really?

Not much if my GPA is to be believed. All that said, no matter what the instantaneous Twitter outrage machine wants to tell you, the Biden administration produced actual, real progress this month when it finally pushed through its much-anticipated infrastructure bill. It seems odd that putting $1 trillion toward upgrading bridges and roads that are badly out of shape would be in any way challenging, but in reality it’s no small feat in a country that has put more emphasis on memorializing collapsed bridges than repairing bridges before they collapse.

This was a dramatic, drawn out affair due to some infighting, and House progressives essentially held the bill hostage in an effort to pass a sweeping expansion of the social safety net, which, for the record, is something that deserves its own fair shake from the public. But at least for the time being we can revel in the fact that Amtrak might actually be efficient and functional a few years from now.

How do we know that’ll happen? Well, I guess we don’t for sure. But what we do know is Amtrak will be on the receiving end of $66 billion of federal cash over the next few years, the largest funding injection to Amtrak since it was found 50 years ago. That won’t quite get us even with Japan, where trains chug along at 200 mph without making a peep, but it means things will probably be better than my typical commute home on the PATH.

Among the other goodies in this bill:

  • $110 billion for roads and bridges
  • $65 billion for expanding access to broadband internet
  • $65 billion for modernizing the electric grid
  • $55 billion to improve public drinking water
  • $39 billion to upgrade public transportation
  • $25 billion for improving airports
  • $7.5 billion for developing a nationwide system of electric car charging stations

Pretty amazing, right?! Well, depends on your perspective. There’s virtually no political issue that polls better than infrastructure, but there are plenty of reasons to feel like we got a band-aid when we needed surgery. For one, the American Society of Civil Engineers predicts that bringing the nation’s mass transit system up to snuff by 2029 will cost something on the order of $270 billion, which is a scooch more than the $39 billion this bill provides. If you have any hopes of taking a one-hour Shinkansen ride to Boston for your Bain interview, put that aside right now. Meanwhile the bill specifically earmarks $15 billion for replacing America’s lead pipes. Some estimates place the more realistic cost at $60 billion.

Here’s the real kicker: The bill’s advertised total of $1.2 trillion includes $650 billion that had already been appropriated for existing transportation projects, meaning the $1.2 trillion bill is really only $550 billion of actual new spending.

Of course, while $550 billion is less than half the publicized total, it’s not nothing. After all, how many of you have $550 billion lying around under your mattress? None of you. Not with these tuition prices, anyway.

This is way better than nothing, and it also doesn’t have to be the last time we spend money on our highways. Remember, protracted negotiations take time, and siphoning money from congressional coffers isn’t easy. One of the great failings of American government has been its refusal to reinforce our infrastructure over the past several decades. Maybe this will teach us not to wait so long for the next round. In fact, the Democrats would be wise to try and push through another massive infrastructure plan next year before the midterm elections leave chaos in their wake.

The bottom line is this: This is good news. Something got done, it’s something that most people want, it’s something that will be very, very helpful, and the vast majority of us, including the Republicans who crossed party lines to push it through, are happy about it. 

Not everyone. Some people are a little upset about it! Don’t worry. Long before we feel the impact of this bill the media will decide that Sleepy/Uncle/President Joe has his own problems.

But if nothing else, he at least has this. And more importantly, so do we.

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