Hops & Highways Special Report: Senate Passed the Infrastructure Bill. What's Next?

Jess & Dormie join Marina Mayer & Brielle Jaekel with our sister publications in the supply group for a Hops & Highways/L.I.N.K. Live episode to discuss the passing of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and what this means for the future of our industries

Food Logistics and Supply & Demand Chain Executive editors sit down with the editors from sister publications Asphalt Contractor and Pavement Maintenance & Reconstruction in a special L.I.N.K. Live/Hops & Highways episode to discuss the passing of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and what this means for the future of transportation and supply chains.

Full text below:

J: ​​After months of debate, lawmakers in the Senate have come to a final agreement on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. The package, called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, is the culmination of drawn-out and painstaking negotiations that went on for months between a bipartisan group of senators and the Biden administration. The group worked through 281 total amendments to the 2,702 page bill before it was taken up for a final vote. Overall, the bill includes $550 billion in new funds and the renewal of an array of programs otherwise scheduled to expire at the end of September.

D: Highlights of the bill include: $303.5 billion over five years for Federal Highway programs, a 35% increase from previous bills. $40 billion in dedicated resources for bridge repair, replacement and rehabilitation. The bill also features a $118 billion bailout of the Highway Trust Fund from the Treasury’s general fund - a huge win for the road building industry.

B: The bill includes $55 billion for water projects with a focus on upgrading infrastructure which is the largest investment in clean drinking water in our nation's history, $66 billion in passenger and freight rail, $65 billion to rebuild the electric grid, $65 billion to expand broadband Internet access, $39 billion to modernize and expand transit systems and so much more.

M: This bill will deliver significant economic benefits to communities and Improvements to our roads and bridges will provide a smoother ride for trucks, agriculture and other industries that primarily travel roadways, which could also decrease the time spent behind the wheel. Let’s have a cheers to that!

J: Unfortunately, congestion on our roadways is a huge problem and one that this increase in infrastructure funding will hopefully fix. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, in 2019, congestion added 37 minutes to what would otherwise have been a 30-minute trip in a typical American city. Traffic congestion on our major highways has led to nearly $75 billion in operational costs and 1.2 billion hours of lost productivity. 

B: The American Society of Civil Engineers also says there will be an expected 104% rise in annual freight transportation across the U.S. from 2016 to 2045. This increase in freight movement breeds even more challenges to the nation’s already aging infrastructure. In order for the nation to take advantage of surging economic growth, capacity for the nation’s freight transportation system must be expanded on major highways, trade gateways, rail facilities and ports. 

M: This infrastructure investment will hopefully improve the reliability of existing intermodal connectors, of which approximately 68% are congested and 56% have pavements in poor condition. Further delaying investments in repairs and new construction will only become more costly and time consuming.

D: Our failing infrastructure was put on display earlier this summer when the Hernando DeSoto bridge was closed. This bridge carries I-40 traffic across the Mississippi River between Tennessee and Arkansas and was suddenly closed on May 11 when engineers from the Arkansas Department of Transport discovered a fractured support beam during a routine inspection. Since then, new information has come to light revealing that damage to the bridge has been visible and evident as far back as 2016.

B: While this bridge has been closed, over-the-road truckers are having to take alternate routes, taking an eight-minute detour. This is adding an average daily cost to the trucking industry of $2.4 million per day, according to the American Transportation Research Institute. 

J: The I-40 bridge isn’t the only bridge in trouble. According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, 1 in 3 bridges in the United States are currently structurally deficient. That’s 220,000 bridges. What that really means is that motorists are driving across bridges badly in need of repair 171.5 million times daily. 

D: At the current pace, it would take nearly 40 years to repair this current backlog of structurally deficient bridges. The estimated cost to repair or replace the 45 thousand bridges in need of repair, based on average price data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, would be $41.8 billion.

J: The good news is, the infrastructure bill does include that $40 billion for bridge repair and rehabilitation over five years which is the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system. And we will drink to that!

M: While bridges will be a key priority in this legislation, there will be many other projects that will improve our failing infrastructure. If Congress passes the bill, money will start through existing federal channels to states and cities as soon as October.

D: We don’t have a lot of details yet about what projects will be coming out of this bill, but we do know that Alaska was a big winner from a project standpoint. U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski was a key negotiator of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and her state will receive funding for the reconstruction of the Shakwak Highway, the Highway from the Alaskan border to Haines Junction in Canada. Money will also be distributed to the Puerto Rico Highway Program.

J: Another project that has come out of the bill would be a major undertaking to connect 12 military bases in five southern states. Money would be allocated under the bill to expand Interstate Highway 14 from its 25 miles near Fort Hood, Texas, into Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and onto Augusta, Georgia. The proposed 1,300-mile route runs between Interstate Highways 10 and 20 and would primarily upgrade already existing roads.

B: There are many vast and complex projects that will extend over years, such as a new train tunnel under the Hudson River connecting New Jersey and Penn Station in Manhattan. Airports across New York state are set to receive a combined $937 million in federal funding. There is also a pipeline of road, transit and other projects that every state can jump on quickly to make a swift impact.

M: The legislation would set aside millions of dollars for individual projects across the country, including $1 million for the restoration of the Great Lakes, $24 million for San Francisco Bay, $106 million for Long Island Sound, and $238 million for the Chesapeake Bay.

J: The $550 billion of new funding would clearly touch Americans across the country with numerous industries and regions of the country scoring benefits from the bill. California, the most populous state, would get a minimum of $39 billion, including $25.3 billion for highways and $4.2 billion for bridge replacements and repairs over five years. Texas would get even more for highway projects at $26.9 billion, the White House said. It would also get $537 million for bridge projects. 

B: The White House has a full list of where funding will be allocated if this bill is passed and we’ll post the fact sheet for you to look at if you’re into that kind of thing. We’re just really happy to see infrastructure funding as a top priority in the country and we will drink to that!

D: On top of the benefits to our actual physical infrastructure, this bill will give other economic boosts as well. President Biden has been quoted as saying this bill will create millions of good union jobs all across the country in cities, small towns, rural and Tribal communities and 90% of the jobs created will not require a college degree. In fact, the White House says 2 million jobs per year on average are projected to be added over the next decade as a result of this legislation.

J: The problem is, who will do the work? In the construction industry, second quarter data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction showed that 88% of contractors are having difficulty finding workers forcing them to pull back on projects. Of those who reported difficulty finding skilled labor, 35% have turned down work because of skilled labor shortages. If we don’t have the workers, how can we move these projects forward?

D: Earlier this year, President Biden proposed the American Jobs Plan which would give $100 billion to fund priorities like expanding registered apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships, particularly for women and people of color, wraparound support for dislocated workers, sector-based training programs focused on target industries and job training for justice-involved individuals. Unfortunately, the bipartisan agreement left this funding out.

M: Background on driver shortage

B: One thing we were excited to see in this bill was a provision to address the truck driver shortage. The bill creates a pilot apprenticeship program for drivers under the age of 21. Let’s have a drink to that!

J: It has taken years for Congress to finally get behind its long-imagined goal of legislation to upgrade the nation’s ailing infrastructure, but they did it. So what’s next? After passing the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, the Senate approved the blueprint for a $3.5 trillion budget resolution, which greenlights funding in key areas in line with the president’s legislative agenda. The House, which will return to work on Monday, will also need to approve the bill and a budget resolution before Congress can craft and pass final legislation. Neither bill will get to President Biden’s desk for weeks or even months.