Kicking COVID to the Curb

Governments and agencies are taking proactive approaches to address infrastructure during the pandemic

By Brian Alvarado

With 2020 more than 75% through, our nation continues to battle the after effects of the global pandemic that turned the economy upside down. And after decades of neglect for the country’s deteriorating roads, bridges, water systems and more, policymakers are beginning to break the ice when it comes to infrastructure investments—these conversations alone are steps toward a brighter future.

In July, the House passed the $1.5 trillion Moving Forward Act, which addresses the nation’s infrastructure. This package also includes the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act, which would put forth $494 billion toward highways, bridges and public transit systems. Despite murky waters ahead for the bill in the Senate—President Donald Trump has even publicly expressed opposition—it has triggered the conversation of a bipartisan bill focused on infrastructure investment.

 After decades of neglect for the country’s deteriorating roads, bridges and water systems to name a few, policymakers are beginning to break the ice when it comes to infrastructure investments.

“In our view, there could be no better time to meaningfully address these deficiencies (in infrastructure) than at a moment when the economy is struggling from the fallout of COVID-19…” said Bipartisan Policy Center President Jason Grumet in a recent article in Transportation Today on the need for a bipartisan legislation.

In another attempt to address our ailing infrastructure particularly during the pandemic, the president signed into law the Great American Outdoors Act just a month later. The legislation provides up to $1.9 billion per year for the next five years to fund deferred maintenance projects identified by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education.

A few weeks later, the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure unanimously approved a water infrastructure policy bill that has received bipartisan backing. The Water Resources Development Act of 2020 authorizes water resource construction projects and studies for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The bill is now on its way to the House, where it’s expected to pass.

Aside from national legislation, local city and state governments across the country are prioritizing infrastructure, all in different ways. For the City of Denver, the public works office, which is known as the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, has put forth an effort to build out its bike network to help its citizen’s exercise and travel safely. In Columbus, Ohio, the city is partaking in major transportation initiatives that promote innovative and safe mobility planning.

On a larger scale, the state of Kansas added on 40 major highway projects in May, totaling $1.6 billion to its development pipeline. On the other hand, Missouri’s governor signed HB 2120, a bill that provides protections for safe drinking water in its schools by capitalizing on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant that assist with lead water testing.

Agencies are also doing their part in regards to providing infrastructure-related resources. On its website, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is displaying a map that gives a snapshot of the nation’s construction-ready infrastructure projects that address categories such as dams, inland waterways, clean and drinking water, as well as multimodal freight. The American Public Works Association (APWA) recently premiered its virtual PWX@Home, which features hundreds of virtual education sessions, exhibits and networking opportunities. Topics range from fleets, winter maintenance, water resources and sustainability.

Although the country has quite a way to go before we can label the state of our infrastructure as “robust,” it seems as if the pandemic has pushed the infrastructure initiative. The most previous infrastructure report card from ASCE in 2017 handed the U.S. an overall grade of D+, the same as 2013. The grade, which is given every four years, is based on an assessment of the 16 major infrastructure categories. Out of the 16 categories for the U.S., only four received at least a C or better—ports, bridges, rail and solid waste.

The next infrastructure report card is scheduled for 2021 will not likely yield far greater results. However, the teamwork that’s being put forth by key members of our nation will pay off in the years to come as long as this momentum is sustained, similar to the everlasting results of the nation’s infrastructure-based response from the Great Depression. Not only will our roads, bridges and waterways thrive, but millions of jobs will be created to put Americans back to work.

Brian Alvarado is the editor of American Infrastructure Magazine. He can be reached at brian@builder.media.

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