Thirty-year-old train cars, thousands of miles of highway in need of repair and too few electric vehicle charging stations — these are some of the Bay Area-specific challenges that the Biden administration plans to address through its Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework.
The $1.2 trillion bill, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, includes $550 billion in new spending for nationwide transportation and utility infrastructure projects like repairing structurally deficient bridges and expanding broadband Internet access, according to a White House fact sheet. The remaining $650 billion is previously approved funding for existing infrastructure projects like highway maintenance.
California alone will receive over $40 billion, most of which will go towards road and public transportation. The Bay Area is expected to receive about $4.5 billion in guaranteed funding, according to notes from a joint meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Association of Bay Area Governments on Sept. 10. $3.4 billion will go towards Bay Area transit and $1.1 billion will be invested in flexible highway programs.
In a recent news release, MTC and ABAG wrote that they also expect the Bay Area to receive some of the $4.5 billion in competitive funding allocated to California for bridge repair, as well as “dedicated resources for zero emission vehicle charging and resilience projects.” Additionally, the Bay Area is eligible to compete for about $140 billion dollars in nationwide grant funding made available through the bill.
“We’re talking New Deal Era levels of spending here, levels of spending that we just haven’t quite honestly seen in the US since the 1930s if you adjust for inflation and other changes over time,” said Joseph Kane, a fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program.
The House voted to pass the bill on Friday, Nov. 5, meaning President Joe Biden will soon sign it into law. The federal funds will be distributed over the course of five years, during which America’s transportation infrastructure will be transformed.
The State Of The Bay Area’s Infrastructure
Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers issues a series of reports, grading each state on its infrastructure. In its most recent evaluation, California received a C minus, meaning its infrastructure systems are mediocre, verging on poor. There are many issue areas, according to ASCE. The state’s roads and airports are congested. Its transit systems are underfunded, and overall, its infrastructure needs to be more sustainable and resilient to withstand the effects of climate change.
In the Bay Area in particular, the BART needs to replace its train cars, which are among the oldest in the nation. There needs to be more electric vehicle charging infrastructure in order to support Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order to phase out gasoline-powered cars by 2035. In 2018, the California Energy Commission set a goal of 250,000 chargers by 2025; however, as of January 2021, the state is still thousands of chargers short of meeting this target. And over 1,000 bridges throughout the state, like Santa Clara County’s Interstate 280 over Lawrence Expressway & Creek, are in poor condition and need to be repaired or rebuilt.
The ASCE identifies investment as one of the key solutions to improving America’s infrastructure. While infrastructure is mostly funded on the local, state and regional levels, federal funding is needed to boost much of the nation’s infrastructure to a higher grade. (The country’s overall infrastructure score is a C minus.)
Now That The Bill Has Passed, What’s Next
While the impact of large spending bills in the trillions of dollars may seem unclear, these bills affect how people move through the world and how they connect with one another. But, the improvements they promise will not come right away. Now that the infrastructure bill has passed, state and local leaders across the country will have to implement these plans, which may be a challenge.
Transit officials across the country will have to make difficult decisions about what projects to invest in. Furthermore, regional leaders will need to recruit and train infrastructure workers to execute these projects, Kane detailed in a Sept. 16 blog post for the Brookings Institution.
“When we look back at this in 10, 20, or 30 years, and we see that chart, the spike in infrastructure spending in 2021 or 2022, are we gonna look back and think, ‘Man, did we really maximize that?’” Kane told the Peninsula Press. “That’s what’s on the shoulders of state and local leaders as they implement these projects … How are they going to rethink and reimagine how infrastructure can be better, really, for more people and more places, for our environment?”