The Road Ahead for Infrastructure & Public Works

The Senate’s passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is an encouraging step forward.

By Scott D. Grayson

The American Public Works Association and our over 30,000 members were encouraged to see the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) passed by the Senate. It represents $550 billion in new spending on critical infrastructure including roads and bridges, water infrastructure, cybersecurity, and more. APWA has been continually advocating for a surface transportation reauthorization and increased infrastructure investment, and this legislation directly aligns with many of our priorities. We call on the House of Representatives and Senate to swiftly proceed to the conference process and negotiate passage of urgently needed infrastructure legislation.

Critical surface transportation programs are set to expire on September 30, 2021, and Congress must pass a long-term extension by this deadline to ensure continued certainty for important transportation infrastructure projects. APWA’s priorities for surface transportation reauthorization focuses on funding, safety, and streamlining, and the IIJA would help to advance these goals. The bill’s proposed investment of over $273 billion will help public works agencies to repair failing roads and bridges as well as construct new transportation systems. APWA also strongly supports the IIJA’s inclusion of elements of the “One Federal Decision” policy that can continue to ensure interagency coordination on environmental reviews. This can ensure projects are delivered quickly without compromising public health and the environment. Additionally, the bill’s $11 billion investment in road safety will help public works professionals maintain a transportation network that is safe for all users, whether its motorists, cyclists, or pedestrians.  By acting on these priorities, we can increase the reliability, sustainability, and safety of our surface transportation system while securing it against cybersecurity threats.

After decades without a major investment, many of our nation’s drinking water and wastewater systems are nearing the ends of their usable life cycles and are in immediate need of upgrades and maintenance. APWA’s priorities call for policies that will enhance our water infrastructure through federal funding and financing and protect communities from threats to water supplies. We are pleased that many provisions of the IIJA directly support these priorities as well. By providing $14.7 billion each for State Revolving Funds, the bill would ensure more utilities have access to critical financing mechanisms for the improvement of water and wastewater infrastructure. Additionally, $15 billion for the removal and replacement of lead service lines and $9 billion to address emerging contaminants would help public works agencies safeguard our drinking water against these dangerous substances. Funding directed towards resiliency and a requirement that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) provide cybersecurity support to vulnerable water systems can help public works professionals secure them against these emerging threats. 

Our nation’s infrastructure must also be protected against the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters and cybersecurity threats. As first responders, public works professionals are on the frontlines of emergency management dealing with these challenges. The IIJA aligns well with APWA policy priorities of increasing disaster mitigation efforts and strengthening cybersecurity. Among other mitigation measures, $3.5 billion for the National Flood Insurance Fund would help public works agencies to protect their communities against damaging wet weather events. By investing in appropriate mitigation measures now, Congress can help to save dollars and lives for years to come. The IIJA also has a number of provisions focused on cybersecurity, including $1 billion for grants to help state, local, tribal, and territorial governments upgrade their cybersecurity and critical infrastructure. Many municipalities lack resources to address potential cybersecurity threats, and efforts must continue to strengthen the critical infrastructure they operate. APWA also supports provisions in the IIJA aimed at increasing our infrastructure’s sustainability and resiliency. Leveraging innovation and research to mitigate negative impacts from climate change is also paramount to protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure. Public works professionals understand the importance of building infrastructure that is resilient and able to withstand the increasing challenges of climate change and severe weather and will continue to partner with the federal government to harden our critical transportation and water systems against these threats.

With the IIJA passing the Senate, America is on the doorstep of a long-deferred, much-needed investment in the infrastructure systems that ensure economic growth, preserve public health, and deliver essential services. This investment will have the additional benefit of creating thousands of new jobs at a time when many Americans remain unemployed. APWA and its members stand ready to continue working with Congress and the White House to successfully pass and implement a bipartisan infrastructure law that will not only construct and upgrade infrastructure but, equally importantly, maintain these systems for generations to come.

 Scott D. Grayson, CAE is the CEO of the American Public Works Association.