President Joe Biden has signed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) into law, boosting highway and public transportation investments by $450 billion. The plan also includes a five-year reauthorization of federal surface transportation programs, a necessity for states trying to plan out their infrastructure projects.
If you've read the text of the infrastructure legislation and wondered why there aren't more specifics about what exactly it will do, that's because the package, by design, didn't include specific projects. The IIJA will however deliver generational transportation investments, with nearly 90 percent of the resources for roads and bridges distributed by formula directly to the states.
States, perhaps are busy dusting off those much-needed projects for which they had no funding, and figuring out how apply for their cut of the $550 billion in total new spending and implementing the law will be no easy task. During a bipartisan signing ceremony, President Biden appointed former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu as senior advisor responsible for coordinating for implementation of the historic bipartisan infrastructure law.
In this role, The White House says Landrieu will work with a team of independent experts to verify that it creates good jobs, boosts the nation’s global economic competitiveness, strengthens supply chains, and acts against inflation.
Implementation Will be a Long Process
It's important to understand that the IIJA represents in not a stimulus bill designed to give an immediate boost to the economy. The package was designed as a longer-term patient approach to rebuilding American competitiveness through infrastructure. This means it’s going to be a busy few months inside Washington and across the country as IIJA implementation begins and Federal agencies, like the Departments of Transportation and Energy, figure out how to implement the law. They will need to figure out how to create these new programs and find safe ways to quickly get money out the door.
This will require internal planning, internal and public review, hiring staff and building knowledge resources to stand-up these new operations—all before any services like grant agreements and technical expertise are produced.
"The work is just beginning," Ed Mortimer, vice president for transportation infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says. "This is going to take some time and we have to get it right. We want to utilize the investments on the proper projects. There is a lot of people that doubt that we can get projects done and deliver them. Our efforts moving forward are to ensure that these investments are made in the right way and that the American people see the benefits. But it's going to take some time."
According to the Brookings Institute, states will bear an even bigger burden than that of Federal agencies. As the owners and operators of most infrastructure, they must design and build new assets, hire more workers, and even mobilize their own financial resources to meet these Federal investments. They need to ensure their operations are ready to handle the influx of new federal funding and that means getting the people and processes in place to do so. No easy task given the job market right now.
All this means that projects simply cannot and will not happen overnight. The pace at which federal funds reach different places nationally depends on the types of projects pursued and the types of programs channeling resources to these projects.
Associations Have Heavy Lifts, Too
Many associations throughout the construction industry have been huge advocates for the passage of this legislation and now that it's signed in to law, it will be partially their responsibility to ensure their priorities are being met.
Associations like the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) have said they will work to make sure IIJA surface transportation investment levels are fully realized in each of the next five years. The association said they will also continue their work promoting a federal regulatory environment that supports the timely delivery of infrastructure improvements.
The National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA), who also advocated for many provisions in the IIJA including the Buy American exemption, are also keeping a close eye on implementation.
Among NAPA priorities included in the final bill are reauthorization of the Accelerated Implementation and Deployment of Pavement Technologies (AID-PT) program to advance innovation for constructing and maintaining long-lasting pavements, as well as increased federal contributions to safety contingency funds to protect the women and men working daily to keep Americans and the economy moving so they can return home safely. Also notable is an absence of pavement selection mandates, empowering road owners and engineers who know the projects best to design and build cost-effective pavements that serve their communities efficiently.
The last long-term funding bill, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, was originally set to expire in 2020 but has been temporarily renewed while legislators and stakeholders worked toward a long-term approach. The result is IIJA, which increases highway and bridge programs by 55 percent over the FAST Act’s 2015 baseline. As a result, NAPA projects each state will receive more than $1 billion total in Federal Highway Administration funding to repair and improve roads and bridges.