Transportation Troubleshooting: Infrastructure Investment Law Is Working
On March 28, 2023, I appeared before a congressional panel, the “U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.” The following are highlights from my oral and written testimony:
More than 36,000 transportation improvement projects—including at least one in every congressional district—have moved forward in the last 16 months as implementation of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) continues.
In my testimony, I cited examples of how federal transportation investments are yielding benefits for the American traveling public.
• Pittsburgh’s Fern Hollow Bridge, which collapsed Jan. 28, 2022, was reopened in less than a year as a 460-foot, four-lane span with the help of $25 million in federal funding, including IIJA money.
• In Idaho, a 6.5-mile stretch of Highway 95 is being expanded with new lanes, wider shoulders and more-level grades.
• In Arkansas’ first district, a nearly $40 million project is underway to repair and rehabilitate a section of Highway 148.
• Missouri’s Nodaway and Andrew counties in the sixth congressional district will see $11 million in the rehabilitation of Highway 71.
• Washington, D.C., will be using $16 million in formula funds to conduct maintenance on tunnel infrastructure in the district.
• The state of Washington began $34 million worth of work on two bridges over the Snohomish River in the second district.
I further explained that the IIJA’s dedicated bridge formula program will empower states to begin addressing the more than 223,000 bridges in need of repair or rehabilitation, according to ARTBA’s most recent analysis of U.S. DOT’s National Bridge Inventory database. Nearly 43,000 bridges are classified as structurally deficient or in poor condition, and the IIJA’s investments will help ensure states take meaningful action to repair them.
Causes of Concern
On the downside, however, I acknowledged that inflation continues to have impacts on the states’ ability to deliver projects.
“Increased material costs and supply chain challenges undoubtedly have had a dilutive impact on the law’s investments,” I said. “It’s also clear this situation would have been dramatically worse had Congress opted for another flat-funded extension of surface transportation programs. Our analysis shows there has been real market growth over the last year.”
I also cautioned committee members about new and well-meaning IIJA requirements related to expansion of Buy America. “If Buy America provisions are not pursued with stakeholder input and articulated clearly, it could have the opposite outcome and result in unnecessary project delays.”
More than 16 months following the IIJA’s enactment, many of the parameters for Buy America implementation remain unsettled, underscoring ARTBA’s concerns about potential disruption of projects. Specifically:
• The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has yet to complete guidance on new requirements to ensure consistent implementation by all Federal Highway Administration division offices, Federal Transit Administration regional offices, and state and local transportation agencies.
• OMB is considering extending Buy America coverage to items, including aggregates and other paving materials, which Congress explicitly exempted in the IIJA.
• There is still no centralized, national effort to assess the domestically made availability of products falling under the five categories of construction materials in the law.
“We urge this committee to engage with OMB’s Made in America Office, which is overseeing all domestic preference programs and evaluating all proposed waivers, to seek clarity in these areas,” I noted.
The key takeaway from the 16 months of the IIJA is that its highway and bridge funding provisions are working as intended, with state transportation departments breaking ground on improvement projects in communities across America.
A virtue of the multi-year surface transportation reauthorization is the economic benefits that will follow project completion—be it increased state and local tax revenue, local job creation or a boost to household income—are only set to compound from where we are today.
In addition, ARTBA members remain committed to working in partnership with state transportation agencies to maximize IIJA’s transportation improvements.