Pandemic makes way for reformative infrastructure
The coronavirus pandemic is the ideal time for municipalities to approach infrastructure in a reformative way as key lawmakers push for a year-long extension of current surface transportation funding expiring at the end of the month.
That optimistic message came from the United for Infrastructure kickoff on Monday of what is known as infrastructure week. In a recorded video, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the pandemic is the time to achieve big changes in municipalities’ infrastructure.
“In the face of the crisis of COVID-19, we can’t afford to simply respond and rebuild in the near term,” Garcetti said. “It is time for us to reimagine what our cities and communities and our country and our world can be in the decades to come."
“Centers of innovation, sustainability and equity, sources of good jobs and lasting careers and a strong economy with steady growth — all of it constructed on a sturdy foundation of strong infrastructure,” Garcetti said. “With local investments and federal partnership, I know that we will get this done.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said the pandemic doesn’t have to become a reason to not invest in infrastructure.
“As we come out of this pandemic, it’s critically important that we rebuild our economy,” Hogan said. “Rebuilding America’s infrastructure and rebuilding better can be a huge part of us putting people back to work and stimulating our economy. I don’t think it’s an either or — we have to focus on the pandemic and we’ve got this terrible financial crisis so we can’t do infrastructure. I think investing and rebuilding better is something that now is more critical than ever.”
However, municipalities face many challenges including drastic revenue shortfalls due to the pandemic. The event also comes as current surface transportation funding will expire on Sept. 30. Many infrastructure groups have called for the Fixing America’s Transportation Act to be extended by one year and said if it’s not, billions of infrastructure projects could be canceled.
Sen. John Barrasso, R- Wyo., chair of the committee on Environment and Public Works which unanimously passed a multi-year surface transportation bill last summer, said on Monday he is pushing Congress to pass a year-long extension of current funding before Sept. 30.
“This will give states the certainty they need over the next year,” Barrasso said. “It will also give us time to pass the bipartisan multi-year bill that we need.”
Both the House and Senate attempted to advance separate surface transportation reauthorization bills to fuel a depleted Highway Trust Fund and other infrastructure funding. As elections approach in November, it seems less likely for a full reauthorization to come to fruition and therefore an extension will be needed. The HTF runs mostly on gas taxes, but also receives money from Treasury general funds under the FAST Act.
Sources said existing funding and possible additional measures could be included in a future relief bill. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the chances of a relief bill “doesn’t look that good right now,” according to multiple news sources.
Hogan said he was disappointed that congressional leaders haven’t reached an agreement on a future relief bill and doesn’t believe that a larger infrastructure bill will be passed before elections.
In his infrastructure plan released in November 2019, presidential hopeful Joe Biden said he would ensure new revenue is secured to stabilize the HTF.
Biden also called for speeding up the transition to electric vehicles, encouraging people to buy them and incentivizing businesses to shift their existing fleets to electric vehicles. Biden said he plans to work with Congress, the private sector, labor unions, mayors and governors to build a national electric charging system of 500,000 public charging outlets.
Tom Donahue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, reiterated his call on Monday for a 25 cent increase in the federal gas tax, but also said the federal government needs to get infrastructure funding past the end of September.
“The bottome line that we have to understand in this whole thing is we have learned through this pandemic and other issues what infrastructure would do to help this country,” Donahue said.