Finally, “Infrastructure Week” is no longer a punchline. As President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion bill into law Monday, he kicked off the biggest spending program in more than a decade to build and rebuild the nation’s essential infrastructure.
Over the coming years, the U.S. will significantly ramp up construction related to roads, bridges, water systems, broadband, ports and the power grid. These are the kinds of bread-and-butter government projects that are vital for the nation’s safety, well-being and economic strength. These investments will make a real impact on people’s lives by helping keep the lights on during heat waves, by expanding public transit so people can get to work without a car and by giving students reliable internet access so they can do their schoolwork.
Certainly, the bill is not as far-reaching as Biden’s initial $2.3 trillion proposal. And even that plan, while ambitious, was not enough to address the tremendous need. The U.S. has consistently underfunded infrastructure over the last half-century, and that’s created a backlog of work to keep existing transportation, water and energy systems up to date.
Plus, the nation is facing the even more daunting job of preparing communities for the onslaught of climate change. From the wildfires to flooding to coastal erosion, extreme weather patterns are already taxing the nation’s infrastructure. The U.S. has to address climate change on two fronts: Rebuilding communities to withstand the effects of climate change, while rapidly reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels to slow global warming to avoid greater devastation. All of that work will cost a lot of money.
Yet, despite the need, it was still a battle to pass the bill. Biden had to scale back his infrastructure vision to get bipartisan support — something that is far too rare in Washington, even for programs that have long been supported by Democrats and Republicans.
Biden’s initial plan rightly recognized that the U.S. must also strengthen the infrastructure — including education, child care, housing and healthcare — that allows people to work, to invent and to adapt to a changing climate. But to appease Republicans and some Democrats, the social spending was removed and the bipartisan bill primarily funds conventional brick-and-mortar infrastructure. Much-needed housing, community and climate programs are, for now, still included in the Build Back Better Act, which is being negotiated in Congress.
For too long, the U.S. has been a nation resting on its laurels, too self-satisfied with past achievements to recognize the need to keep building toward a brighter future and the country is now paying the price in deferred maintenance. The infrastructure bill is an overdue reinvestment, but it should only be the first installment.