By The Herald Editorial Board
President Biden’s signature Monday on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — the $1.2 trillion spending package for roads, bridges, transit, ports, broadband internet, water systems and more — marked the successful conclusion of a meme that has dogged the Biden White House this year and the Trump administration for its four years.
“Finally, Infrastructure Week has turned into Infrastructure Day,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-2nd District. “And from here on out, everyday in my district is going to be Infrastructure Day, because the district and the state are going to benefit from the passage of this bill.”
With about $550 billion in additional investments above already identified spending, the act is expected to bring at least $8.6 billion in projects to Washington state, including $4.7 billion for repair and maintenance of highways; $605 million for bridge repair and maintenance; $1.79 billion for public transportation; $882 million for water system improvements; $385 million for airport projects, including $16 million for Paine Field; $172 for culvert replacement and other salmon habitat restoration work; and at least $100 million to bring broadband internet to unserved and underserved rural and urban areas.
Yet, there are some notable omissions from the list, projects for Snohomish County and the rest of the 2nd Congressional District that Larsen, senior member of the House Transportation Committee, had included in the House version of the bill: including $840,000 for replacement of the westbound lanes of the U.S. 2 trestle between Everett and Lake Stevens; and $3.9 million for Arlington’s 169th Street and its connection from the job magnet Cascade Industrial Center to Smokey Point Boulevard and I-5.
Those specific earmarks and others proposed in Island, Skagit and Whatcom counties in Larsen’s district, were set aside in the final compromise between the Senate and House, Larsen explained in a phone interview from Washington, D.C. The Senate’s bill didn’t include the specific earmarks, and the White House, the 10-term Congressman said, made the calculation to go with the Senate version to win passage.
However, those projects, having already gone through a vetting process, are now in better position for grant and other funding through the federal Department of Transportation. While the House bill would have provided more certain funding, there are still opportunities to fund projects through the Senate version. There are substantial grants that will be made available to the state and local governments, he said.
“It sets my priority list when going to the DOT as to what’s funded first,” Larsen said.
The funding for broadband is a good example of how that could work; with $100 million guaranteed for the state, there are opportunities to build beyond that funding. Snohomish County’s efforts earlier this spring to map the county’s broadband internet “deserts” could be key to qualify for support.
Other highlights in the infrastructure package:
Everett Transit and other agencies can continue expansion of their fleets of electric and low-emission buses, important for the reduced diesel emissions, from a total of $2.34 billion set aside for green transit grants.
A total of $17 billion is available to the nation’s ports to expand the freight transportation infrastructure and correct some of the supply-chain problems that are contributing to shipping delays and inflation.
Western Washington, dependent on state and local ferry service, could benefit from a $250 million pilot project to purchase electric and low-emission ferries.
Funding for rail will include restoration and expansion of service for the Amtrak routes that serve the county: the Cascades, Empire Builder and Coast Starlight routes.
Development of a statewide electric-vehicle charging network will get a boost of $71 million in the package..
The act will also foster workforce development, promoting career opportunities, encouraging diversity and developing apprenticeship programs.
Most importantly, those projects also will bring jobs — direct and indirect employment — to Snohomish County and the state, Larsen said.
“The best thing about this is the number of people who will be going to work over the next five years,” Larsen said.
Just as there are two sides of a street, however, the federal funding outlined above won’t fulfill all needs in the county or state. As pointed out earlier this month, state lawmakers will also need to move forward on adopting a comprehensive transportation package.
Back in May, The Washington Post, singled out Washington state as one of the states that was spending less on maintenance and preservation on existing roads and bridges than on expanding its roadways and adding lanes. Washington state, the Post noted, was the eighth worst in the nation for the share of roads in poor condition; at 27 percent. Yet, more than three-fourths of its spending on roads goes toward expansion, fourth highest in the nation.
Much of that is a result of the faster pace of growth here, but it has meant that, as state Transportation Secretary Roger Millar told the editorial board recently, the state is funding only half of the nearly $2 billion a year that is necessary for maintenance and preservation.
Either before the end of the year or early in next year’s session, the Legislature must adopt a substantial transportation budget.
Congress and President Biden may have moved forward, but for a while yet it’s still Infrastructure Week for state lawmakers.