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Pro-America Nation Building
How the bipartisan infrastructure plan paves the way towards a stronger economy, better politics, and a shared national project
It’s easy to be cynical about politics these days. No one likes politicians. Everyone hates the media. Voters are polarized around cultural issues and partisan divides. Politics is grim, depressing stuff that makes you just want to look at dog posts or escape into exploits on Arrakis.
So, when something good happens in government, we should take a moment to appreciate it as a nation—not as a member of one party or another. Such is the case with the infrastructure bill passed last week with both Democratic and Republican support in the House and Senate and promoted by President Biden yesterday at the recovering and now-flourishing Port of Baltimore.
Despite what malcontents on the ideological left and right say, the bipartisan infrastructure bill is a tremendous step forward in preparing America for the future global economy, creating solid new jobs, and improving the quality of life for people across the country. What’s in the bill specifically? As Vox summarizes nicely, the $550 billion in new federal investments cover a range of critical infrastructure needs, including:
$110 billion for roads and bridges: An estimated 173,000 miles of roads and 45,000 bridges are in major need of maintenance, and the bill’s largest appropriations would go toward making them more structurally sound and repairing damage like potholes.
$66 billion for passenger and freight rail: The bill strives to modernize existing rail services and expand lines to new geographic areas. Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn has said that this money, which represents the largest federal investment the rail service has received since it was established in 1971, will go to improving its offerings in the Northeast corridor and growing its presence in as many as 160 communities.
$65 billion for expanding broadband access: The bill intends to provide high-speed internet access to millions of Americans who don’t currently have it, and includes funds for broadband deployment in rural areas and on tribal lands. Additionally, it contains funding for vouchers to help low-income families afford internet access.
$65 billion to update the electric grid: A key piece of the legislation focuses on bolstering the resiliency of the electric grid in the face of a growing number of natural disasters including wildfires and hurricanes. It’s also dedicated to building new power lines and enhancing the infrastructure for delivering renewable energy.
$55 billion for water and wastewater: The measure tries to tackle water quality in a few different ways: It includes $15 billion for replacing lead pipes, $10 billion to remove contaminants in drinking water, and more than $20 billion for projects that address broader drinking water and wastewater needs.
$39 billion for public transit: These funds would repair existing public transit lines, modernize them, and make them easier to access. A key goal is to make existing bus and rail fleets greener, including bringing in more buses that are zero-emissions and retiring those that aren’t.
$25 billion for airports: The bill strives to make upgrades to air traffic control equipment, and to tackle longstanding repairs and maintenance that airports across the country need, like runways and terminals.
$17 billion for ports and waterways: The bill attempts to curb pollution near ports, and address congestion in order to streamline access and traffic at many locations.
$7.5 billion for electric vehicle chargers: This funding includes $7.5 billion to establish a robust nationwide network of electric vehicle chargers, the first system of this scale, and an investment seen as critical for electric vehicle adoption.
$1 billion for reconnecting communities: In the past, roads, highways, and bridges have been built that divide communities of color from white communities, an issue this bill aims to address by removing existing barriers and building new infrastructure.
In Baltimore alone, we will be able to continue building out the Port to better handle increased cargo shipping and improve the rail and road systems delivering the goods from these ships to people throughout the East and Midwest. This includes fixing the 126-year-old Howard Street Tunnel to accommodate double-stacked trains to more quickly move products in and out of the Port. New businesses are already popping up around the Baltimore region to support and build on these infrastructure improvements. As NBC News reports, the recent success with the Port’s expansion relies on cooperative efforts from both the public and private sectors (emphasis added):
The Port of Baltimore, which ranked as the 12th busiest port in the U.S. in 2020, hasn’t experienced the same level of congestion and delays in getting cargo off ships that other ports have despite becoming a growing hub for distribution centers from Amazon and big box retailers, like Home Depot, said Doyle.
Instead, the port has taken in ships that couldn’t get into other ports because they were so congested and was able to attract two new container services totaling 21 new ships a week from Asia and India. Doyle attributed the port’s ability to withstand the surge in shipping demand with investments the port has made in areas like additional cranes and dredging projects to allow larger ships to enter.
“It's an example of the kind of investments that are needed from both the private and public sector side,” said a senior administration official in a call with reporters Tuesday. “It's also an illustration that co-funding in the bipartisan infrastructure plan incentivizes the private sector to make these high, long term investments as well.”
Replicate these kinds of infrastructure activities nationally—tailored to the specific needs of different states and localities—and you have the building blocks for widely shared economic growth, the revival of American industry, and the creation of new small businesses.
Think of infrastructure as the circulatory system of the national economy—it’s critical to the proper functioning of the whole body, helping to move nutrients and oxygen all around while fighting disease. And we’ve seen recently what happens when back-ups occur in this system in terms of supply chain delays, goods not getting to people, and higher prices. So, expanded ports and waterways, better roads and railways, upgraded grids, and improved transportation systems will help to maintain our economic circulatory system and the overall health of our economy.
Likewise, a more advanced and cleaner national infrastructure will also position America well against the economic rise of China and offers openings for the U.S. to solidify economic links with democratic allies in Europe and Asia. Beyond the spending, it’s also possible these efforts can help revitalize politics itself, moving us away from toxic partisan divisions and towards more cooperative projects that reach across party lines to help American workers, American businesses, and America’s great cities and towns.
There are plenty of reasons for Americans to be cynical about government and politics.
But with the new infrastructure commitments, we can at least try to forge a better political model—one centered on national economic growth; the well-being of all people and all regions; and tangible improvements to people’s lives rather than irresolvable cultural divides.
As President Biden indicated while touring the Port of Baltimore, shipping and railroad companies, labor unions, and state and local officials—including Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan who was a big supporter of the infrastructure bill—are all cooperating to make things better for everyone.
“Instead of pointing fingers, we’re starting to see folks working together,” said the President. The true spirit of pro-America nation building.