Senate passes infrastructure budget but what’s in it?

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US Capitol

Questions remain about whether bipartisan framework is enough to meet repair backlogs, upgrade technology and diminish climate change.

The US senate has passed the proposed Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, a major step forward for plans to deliver $1tn to upgrade and repair America’s infrastructure.

While the process of making the framework into law is not complete, securing the votes of 69 congressmen means it has cleared the biggest hurdle. But with the scale of the infrastructure challenge America is facing, what will the money be allocated to and will it be enough?

Roads: £124bn
The largest part of any allocation in the framework is £109bn for improving roads and bridges. That funding will have to achieve a lot. It is estimated that more than 170,000 miles of highways and more than 40,000 bridges are in a poor state of repair in America.

Estimates for repairing that backlog rise as high as almost £800bn (American Society of Civil Engineers) and there are also plans to invest some of the £109bn in new research and new infrastructure, leaving questions about what repair works will have to wait for funding by other means.

The remaining $15bn of the roads allocation goes to vehicle electrification. That will see $7.5bn spent on deployment of electric vehicle charging stations, and another $7.5bn on electric school busses.

Rail: $66bn
The new framework injects significant funding into railways with plans to expand access in areas not previously well connected while also upgrading the high-traffic corridor between Washington and Boston. There is also significant funding to be used to reduce Amtrak’s repair backlog.

Both passenger and freight rail will benefit but there is a notable lack of major funding for high-speed rail projects – beyond some grant availability.

The USA has fallen well behind the far east and Europe for modern high speed rail, and the lack of federal funding suggests that may not change, though the progress of some high-speed state-level projects offers some hope for the sector.

Energy: $65bn
Federal funding is being provided to upgrade powerlines and cables across the country, to improve capacity, adapt to the needs of dispersed renewable power capacity, and to improve security following recent high-profile cyber-attacks.

While other measures – such as investment in electric busses and charging points for cars – do directly invest in green outcomes, the package for the power grid is intended to support private sector growth in renewable energy. That approach may prove highly successful as the USA, like Europe, has recently overtaken China in annual renewable installations.

Water: $63bn
One of the highest profile proposals in the president’s original plan was to upgrade American water infrastructure to tackle severe health risks blighting some communities. While the new proposals are smaller, it is not surprising he ensured this remained one of the main points of focus for the bipartisan framework.

$15bn has been allocated for lead pipe replacement, another $10bn for cleaning up chemical pollutants, and further funding will improve capacity, especially in hard-to-reach areas. There is also $8bn dedicated to western water infrastructure to tackle drought conditions through improved water treatment, storage, and reuse facilities.

Ports and Airports: $42bn
Earlier proposals set out ambitions to dramatically improve America’s ageing airports and ports as part of efforts to boost the country’s global trade ambitions and compete with China. Both sectors are still set for a significant programme of works.

Along with repair works, air traffic control towers and systems will receive $5bn for upgrades while over $8bn will go to the Army Corps of Engineers to upgrade port infrastructure. There is also funding for both sectors to increase capacity and to invest in electrification, modernisation and reducing emissions.