We can’t hide from the wrath of Mother Nature, but we can better prepare for it.
That is what came to mind in recent days as torrential rains led to accidents, clogged roadside drains and brought traffic throughout the metro area to a near standstill. The severe weather is exactly the kind of event an infrastructure bill passed by Congress is designed to address.
The bill, passed by the House of Representatives following months of negotiations after it was passed by the Senate, approves $1.2 trillion in spending over five years. Money is earmarked to improve roads, bridges, airports and ports throughout the country, representing a long-overdue investment in our nation’s economy and its future.
All Democratic members of Washington’s congressional delegation voted in favor; Republicans, including Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, were opposed. The bipartisan bill had the backing of 13 Republicans in the House of Representatives and 19 in the Senate.
For our state, the infrastructure bill includes about $600 million to improve bridges — a necessary investment, with federal assessments showing that 416 bridges in the state are in poor condition.
There is about $900 million for Washington water infrastructure to support clean drinking water and wastewater systems. And $4.7 billion for state highway repair and maintenance. And more than $1 billion for transit in the Seattle area and the Sea-Tac airport. And $39 million for wildfire prevention and protection. And even $18 million to boost cybersecurity in the state. To combat climate change, the legislation includes funds for electric-car charging stations and zero-emission school buses.
In support of the bill, Sen. Maria Cantwell said: “Many states in the United States are in need of an infrastructure investment. But, I would put the state of Washington high on the list of states that desperately need infrastructure investment. We’ve been blessed with a growing economy, a big trade economy based on the Pacific Rim and the actions of the Pacific Rim. We need to keep moving products, we need to keep moving services and we need infrastructure investment to do so.”
We agree. The infrastructure bill is an investment that will lead to construction jobs, pave the way for improved commerce and reap dividends for generations. Moody’s Analytics projects growth of about 660,000 jobs nationally by 2025.
Much of the investment is paid for, partially through money for COVID-19 relief that has gone unspent. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill will add $256 billion to the deficit — a shortcoming that should be addressed by lawmakers.
The infrastructure bill is separate from President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better proposal, which now calls for $1.85 trillion in spending over 10 years to strengthen the nation’s safety net, boost social programs and more directly address climate change. That legislation is still the subject of intense debate in Congress.
Regardless of the outcome of the Build Back Better bill, passage of the infrastructure legislation is a victory for the Biden administration — and the American people. Biden said: “Generations from now, people will look back and know this is when America won the economic competition for the 21st century.”
While the preceding administration often talked about “infrastructure week,” such talk proved to be impotent. As details of the bill’s impact in Washington state reveal, our nation will be better prepared for what comes our way in the future.