A road glows orange at sunset

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association)

President Biden, GOP Senators offer alternative proposals for improving nation’s infrastructure

April 28, 2021

By Mike Steekhoek, Executive Director of the Soy Transportation Coalition 

On March 31st, President Biden unveiled “The American Jobs Plan” – an approximately $2 trillion initiative to invest in our nation’s transportation infrastructure, housing, broadband, public schools, and other areas over the next eight years.

Summary

The major components of The American Jobs Plan are as follows:

  • Transportation: $621 billion
  • Home care services for aging and people with disabilities: $400 billion
  • Manufacturing support: $300 billion
  • Affordable housing: $213 billion
  • Research and development investments: $180 billion
  • Drinking water infrastructure: $111 billion
  • Workforce development: $100 billion
  • High-speed broadband: $100 billion
  • Electric grid and power infrastructure: $100 billion
  • Public schools: $100 billion
  • Child-care facilities: $25 billion
  • VA hospitals: $18 billion
  • Community colleges: $12 billion
  • Federal buildings: $10 billion

NOTE: The White House document summarizing The American Jobs Plan states that the initiative “will invest about $2 trillion this decade.” The above list of major investment categories I developed from reviewing the plan amounts to $2.29 trillion.

The breakdown of the $621 billion committed to transportation infrastructure is as follows:

  • Electric vehicles and infrastructure: $174 billion
  • Roads and bridges: $115 billion
  • Public transit: $85 billion
  • Passenger and freight rail: $80 billion
  • Infrastructure resilience: $50 billion
  • Airports: $25 billion
  • Projects of regional or national significance: $25 billion
  • Redress historical inequities and transportation research: $20 billion
  • Road safety improvements: $20 billion
  • Inland waterways: $17 billion

Initial Thoughts

  • I look forward to seeing further details of the plan as they become available, but President Biden should be commended for recognizing the need to devote significant resources to improving our nation’s infrastructure. Whenever infrastructure receives attention and a proposed strategy to improve it from any president, that is always a welcome development.
  • Given how Republicans and Democrats overall agree that improving infrastructure is a legitimate use of government resources, there is a unique opportunity to achieve something significant on behalf of the American people in a collaborative, bipartisan manner if the focus remains on enhancing roads, bridges, inland waterways, ports, railroads, etc. It does concern me to see the proposal extend beyond what most Americans would define as “infrastructure.” Whenever legislative proposals and initiatives – especially controversial ones – get attached to a particular plan, the prospects of ultimate passage usually go down rather than up.
  • While my focus is on transportation infrastructure, the years of underinvestment that has diminished the condition of our multi-modal transportation system has also resulted in antiquated and dilapidated water treatment facilities, the nation’s electric grid, etc.
  • I was very pleased to see the plan proposes to “repair the worst 10,000 smaller bridges, including bridges that provide critical connections to rural and tribal communities.” The Soy Transportation Coalition and others have long argued that any infrastructure proposal should address the needs of both urban and rural America. President Biden should be commended for ensuring rural bridges – often serving as the initial link in the agricultural supply chain – are included in the plan.
  • The inland waterway system is a significant reason U.S. agriculture is competitive in the international marketplace. Unfortunately, this critical mode of transportation has too often been ignored by both Republicans and Democrats. I support the plan’s proposal to invest $17 billion in “inland waterways, coastal ports, land ports of entry, and ferries.” Given how over half of U.S. soybeans are exported, having an effective system of inland waterways and ports is essential for future competitiveness. The Biden Administration clearly aspires to promote a transportation system that provides connectivity in an environmentally sustainable manner. As the below statistics highlight, investing in barge transportation utilizing inland waterways is arguably one of the more effective ways of achieving this goal.

Emissions (grams per ton-mile)

 

   Carbon Monoxide  Nitrogen Oxides    Particulate Matter   Carbon Dioxide
 Barge  0.0411  0.2087     0.0056  15.62
 Railroad  0.0558  0.2830   0.0075  21.19
 Truck  0.27  0.94   0.05  154.08
Source: National Waterways Foundation

 

  • I was pleased to read the plan emphasizes the “on-time and on-budget delivery of infrastructure.” The Soy Transportation Coalition has long emphasized how our nation not only needs to increase infrastructure investment, but also infrastructure delivery. Infrastructure projects too often are not delivered on-time or within budget. This particularly occurs among lock and dam projects along the inland waterway system. Earlier research performed by the Soy Transportation Coalition highlighted how our nation’s approach to funding inland waterway projects is often a recipe for cost overruns and construction delays. Any opportunity to enhance infrastructure project delivery is most welcome.
  • I endorse the need to devote additional resources to improving the nation’s infrastructure, but I suggest we will never spend our way out of this problem. We also need to save our way out of this problem. As President Biden and Congress continues to discuss and debate this issue, I hope additional consideration will be devoted to how the taxpayer dollar can stretch further. The Soy Transportation Coalition recently released a report on the Top 20 Innovations for Rural Bridge Replacement and Repair that highlights opportunities to replace rural bridges for $100,000 vs. $250,000 or greater. This is a challenge that must be addressed from both the revenue and the cost side of the equation.
  •  The soybean industry is increasingly promoting the use of soy-based concrete enhancers and asphalt sealants for more effective maintenance and improvement of roads and bridges. This is very compatible with President Biden’s goal of enhancing infrastructure in an environmentally sustainable manner using products manufactured in America. We encourage the Biden Administration and Congress to increasingly consider these products during future infrastructure discussions.

On April 22nd, a group of Senate Republicans proposed an alternative $568 billion plan that would focus more narrowly on traditional infrastructure initiatives – transportation, broadband, electricity grid, water treatment, etc. The plan would allocate the $568 billion as follows:

  • Roads and Bridges: $299 billion
  • Broadband: $65 billion
  • Public Transit: $61 billion
  • Airports: $44 billion
  • Drinking and Waste-Water Systems: $35 billion
  • Railroads: $20 billion
  • Inland Waterways: $17 billion
  • Water Storage: $14 billion
  • Safety Measures: $13 billion

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