If you thought that the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year would fix America’s roads and bridges, think again. Only $40 billion in the bill is allocated to roads and bridges with just $26.5 billion for fixing the nation’s bridges. The $40 billion is a pittance compared to the $156 billion for mass transit and rail that the bill funds despite low ridership that was made even worse than normal due to the coronavirus pandemic. People are afraid to be confined in indoor congested spaces such as subway cars or rail cars as the coronavirus persists in its variant forms. Further, mass transit has already received $70 billion in pandemic relief to support them through times of less ridership.
On January 28, the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh collapsed, injuring 10 motorists, including four people who were sent to the hospital when a bus and cars plummeted 100 feet down a hillside and caused a major gas leak. The bridge collapse occurred on the same day that President Joe Biden was to tout the recently passed infrastructure bill, except that the bill was not expected to cover the Fern Hollow Bridge, which did not rank high enough to be on the list for repairs despite its poor inspection rating. Pennsylvania expects to receive more than $15.5 billion in funding from the infrastructure bill, including an estimated $1.6 billion for bridge repairs. Pittsburgh, however, has the highest number of bridges within city limits in the world with 732 spans. In the United States, 44,000 bridges across the country are in “poor” condition, and approximately 3,353 of these bridges are located in Pennsylvania, the second-most of any state.
The bill’s spending allocations show that that suburbs and certain other U.S. areas do not count as priorities for needing road infrastructure improvements. Guidance from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), who is fielding infrastructure project proposals from states and cities, demonstrates this to be the case. According to a FHWA memo, proposals should be sent to the bottom of the pile if they “add new general purpose travel lanes serving single occupancy vehicles,” including construction of new roads and highways, or expansions of existing ones. That is, states and cities that need new capacity will take a back seat to those seeking upgrades. The government is prioritizing projects with multiple riders rather than projects on roads where people drive the most or have the most fatalities.
Road construction could also be tied up by environmental reviews. The memo declares that any project requiring a new right of way is ineligible for a fast-tracked National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review that was stipulated in the bill to take no more than 90 days. States planning to widen clogged highways using federal funds could face months or years of scrutiny. Fast-growing areas in the Sunbelt and Northwest need highway extensions to improve local commuting and commerce. For example, the North Dakota transportation department plans to widen part of the two-lane route on Highway 85 where an increase in fatalities have occurred with new federal funds, but these restrictions could delay the process or it may not be funded at all. Texas also needs new interstate highway capacity, especially north from Laredo and from the Rio Grande Valley to the Houston area.
Other Energy-Related Funding in the Infrastructure Bill
Besides mass transit, the infrastructure bill’s other big winner is so-called “green” energy with $21 billion for “demonstration projects” for clean hydrogen, advanced nuclear, carbon capture and other green projects. There is also $11 billion for states and utilities for grid “resilience” to back up intermittent renewable energy (solar and wind) being mandated into the system and $6 billion to save nuclear plants that renewable subsidies are driving out of business. There is another $40 billion in loan authority to finance large-scale clean energy deployment projects,” that can go bust (think Solyndra), with loan guarantee applications increasing 23-fold since Biden became President. In other words, the government will spend tens of billions of dollars on renewables that make the electric grid less reliable, and tens of billions more on transmission lines, batteries and nuclear to back up unreliable renewables.
There is also $7.5 billion for an electric-vehicle charging network to facilitate charging areas for wealthy Americans that can afford electric vehicles and $5 billion for “clean-energy” buses that may not be able to travel from schools to homes to disperse pupils if weather or terrain reduces electric bus mileage. According to Kelley Blue Book, electric vehicles cost consumers an average of $56,437 in November of 2021, more than $10,000 above the industry average, and well over double the cost of the compact cars that so many lower-income Americans rely on. The infrastructure bill also contains a new mandate (to be implemented by 2026) that new vehicles be equipped with anti-drunk driving technology, such as features that might monitor the driver’s attention and actions or detect blood alcohol levels using sensors. The technology obviously will not be cheap to develop and implement, and will likely raise the price of basic, low-tech subcompacts like the Mitsubishi Mirage, Chevy Spark, or Nissan Versa.
It is clear that bridges and roads took a distant back seat to “green” pork in the infrastructure bill and that the Biden administration is furthering working in that direction with its guidance on project priorities. Biden’s Department of Transportation is prioritizing mass transit, rail and electric vehicle charging to road and bridge improvements. Outside of only a handful of densely-populated, walkable cities, vehicle ownership remains a necessity for most Americans to be able to commute to jobs and doctor appointments and to conduct errands. It is doubtful that many Americans have bought into this allocation of funds in the infrastructure bill and the Biden administration priorities that are being set where needed road construction and bridge repair would not be conducted, causing fatalities and injuries to increase. It turns out that with transportation priorities, as with many other things headed by the Biden administration, it is important to distinguish words from actions.