The long presidential election cycle has finally come to an end. Joe Biden will be sworn in as president and Kamala Harris as vice president on January 20, 2021.
So, what kind of impact will this have on bridge construction and repair projects?
Based on promises made by the Biden campaign, it could be a big one. It could be a significant change from the last four years, when bridge and road funding, along with that for other infrastructure projects, was put on hold. Despite many promises of a major infrastructure plan, the Trump administration was unable to produce one that the two houses of Congress could agree to.
This has left the nation’s infrastructure, including its bridges and roads, in terrible condition. According to the Infrastructure Report Card compiled by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the United States has more than 600,000 bridges. Almost 40% of them are 50 years of age or older, putting them past their design lives. More than 9% of bridges are considered structurally deficient. Almost 190 million trips take place on structurally deficient bridges each day. The organization estimates that it would take almost $125 billion to make things right. A new infrastructure report card will be coming out soon, and it’s expected to be even more bleak.
According to a recent survey reported by ASCE, 80% of Americans agree that rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure is important to them. The support for this is greater than almost any other issue on the political docket during these highly partisan times. Rebuilding our economy, which 81% of people agree is critical, has slightly greater support. Less popular things include restructuring the nation’s healthcare system, which is backed by 77% of the population, increasing the availability of education for kids, at 72%, and ending the opioid crisis, also at 72%. In all, only three% of people surveyed think that improving infrastructure isn’t worthwhile.
Looking at the issue from a political perspective, the U.S. Conference of Mayors recently released a study that shows mayors of large and small cities agree that investing in infrastructure is critical because it will help create jobs and improve economic growth during these challenging times.
President-elect Biden has made infrastructure a key component of his Build Back Better plan. His administration is currently calling for a $2 trillion investment in infrastructure over four years. The latest version of the plan reflects a higher level of spending than the $1.7 trillion Biden campaigned on earlier in the election cycle. This includes investing in the nation’s bridges and roads, along with putting money into cleaner energy and green technology. He also wants to provide more people with better access to broadband, clean water and dependable electricity. This is a big change from the stagnation in infrastructure spending we’ve seen over the last few years.
The other good news is that the Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi has also voiced her support for spending more on infrastructure. The only missing link right now is whether the Senate is on board to vote for added spending on infrastructure. However, many senators from both parties have shown interest in previous proposals.
Another part of the Biden infrastructure plan that should appeal to many Americans is that he is committed to creating millions of new union-based jobs that pay at least $15 per hour. This should help with the current unemployment crisis by putting more people to work building the bridges that are a key part of our nation’s transportation system and the economy. Even though this spending will provide relief during the pandemic and economic crisis, the Biden team has made it clear that they would be making this level of investment in infrastructure even if there was no coronavirus crisis.
One thing that companies that work in the bridge development and maintenance industries need to plan for is that it’s likely that the Biden administration will implement or reinstate rules that protect the environment, which were rolled back while President Trump was in office. This could make getting bridge projects done more challenging and cut into profitability. Doing business during the next four years will be a lot more like working during the Obama administration, but with a larger infusion of federal cash. It is likely that these rules will be monitored by a new environmental and climate division that could be set up in the Justice Department.
It’s expected that projects in the future will at the very least have a neutral impact on the climate or a positive effect on it, especially in urban areas where people have been most negatively affected by infrastructure work or the lack of improvements.
It is currently unclear how team Biden plans to pay for infrastructure enhancements, but it seems likely that it will come from increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans. It’s possible that Republicans in the Senate will oppose this. The issue could be eliminated if Democrats gain control over the Senate should they win two open Senate seats during a special election in January, or if some sort of spending compromise can be reached.
Stay tuned. We’re constantly monitoring news about bridge infrastructure and will provide ongoing information and Biden’s plans become clearer and members of Congress indicate whether they will support them.