I’ve written many times about the current state and future needs of U.S infrastructure. Our nation’s infrastructure is aging, generally poorly maintained, and increasingly obsolete. At Mead & Hunt, I lead a group focused on dams, flood control, and energy, and know the challenges that project owners face as they try to maintain aging infrastructure with limited funds. So, I was extremely excited to review the initial details of the President’s promised American Jobs Plan rolled out on March 31st in a White House Briefing Room Fact Sheet. I’ve now gone through this 27-page document in detail and assessed everything as essential, facility improvements, and programming.
The plan proposes to invest $621 billion in transportation infrastructure and resilience. This amount is broken out as follows:
- $115 billion to modernize bridges, highways, roads, and streets.
- $20 billion to improve road safety.
- $85 billion to modernize existing public transit and expand these systems.
- $80 billion for Amtrak and freight rail.
- $174 billion for electric vehicles (EV). This includes 500,000 EV chargers and sale rebates, and tax incentives for American-made EVs.
- $25 billion for airports.
- $17 billion for inland waterways, coastal ports, land ports of entry, and ferries.
- $20 billion for a new program that will reconnect urban neighborhoods cut off by highways.
- $25 billion to support ambitious projects too large or complex for existing funding programs.
- $50 billion to improve infrastructure resilience.
This break-out adds up to $611 billion; I’m not sure where the missing $10 billion is. Of particular importance to my group is the $17 billion for waterways and ports. This includes inland navigation waterways—most of which have a series of navigation locks and dams. As for the $50 billion allocated to infrastructure resilience, it remains to be seen if this will include improving flood control facilities and dams.
The plan also includes investments for water infrastructure, the electrical grid, and high-speed broadband internet for all Americans. Specifically:
- $45 billion to replace lead pipes and service lines.
- $56 billion to modernize drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems.
- $10 billion to monitor and remediate PFAS.
- $100 billion to provide reliable high-speed broadband to every American.
- $100 billion to build a more resilient electrical transmission system and clean energy.
- $16 billion to plug oil and gas wells and reclaim abandoned mines.
- $5 billion investment in development of Brownfield and Superfund sites.
- $10 billion for a Civilian Climate Corps.
Will “clean energy” include an investment in hydroelectric power? If not, it will be a missed opportunity. It’s also unclear whether the $16 billion to plug wells, $5 billion for Brownfields, and $10 billion for Climate Corps are part of the $100 billion for electrical grid and clean energy or additional investments.
One area that appears to be undervalued in this plan is the safety of the approximately 84,000 dams in the United States. Other than navigation locks and dams, they are not mentioned.
Although some items, such as tax breaks for EVs and a Civilian Climate Corps, aren’t what I’d typically think of as infrastructure, if executed efficiently the $963 billion discussed above will dramatically improve U.S. Infrastructure.
There are some investments in the White House fact sheet that are facilities-related, many in areas that are traditionally funded by the private or local government sectors. These include:
- $213 billion to produce, preserve and retrofit two million units of affordable housing. That equates to $106,500 per housing unit.
- $100 billion to upgrade and build new public schools.
- $12 billion for Community College facilities.
- $25 billion to upgrade childcare facilities.
- $18 billion to modernize Veteran Affairs (VA) hospitals and clinics.
- $10 billion to modernize federal buildings.
Of the $378 billion discussed above, only the $18 billion for the VA and $10 billion for federal building clearly fall within the federal government’s responsibility.
After careful review, I’ve concluded that the remainder of the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan may not be what’s been historically dubbed infrastructure, but more programming needs for future economic prosperity. In my opinion, these should be proposed, debated, and passed or rejected by Congress as separate legislative proposals. These proposals totalling $980 billion include:
- $400 billion for expanding access to quality, affordable home- or community-based care.
- $50 billion for the National Science Foundation to create a technology directorate.
- $30 billion for Research & Development (R&D).
- $40 billion to upgrade research infrastructure.
- $35 billion for technology breakthroughs that address climate change.
- $25 billion for R&D investment at Historic Black Colleges & Universities and other institutions.
- $300 billion for retooling and revitalizing American manufacturing.
- $100 billion for workforce development programs.
I think some of these are good ideas the U.S. should invest in. However, they are not true infrastructure.
The United States needs a large investment in its infrastructure. There are many good things in this $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, as well as some items falling outside what’s historically been dubbed essential infrastructure. Hopefully, as this plan moves through the House and Senate, it will mature into a great, executable Infrastructure bill that will serve our communities well into the future.