The Pros and Cons of a Biden-Harris Infrastructure Plan for Businesses in the Bridge Industry

It is expected that in the next few weeks, the new Biden-Harris administration will release a multi-trillion-dollar economic recovery plan. Much of it will be centered on an investment in the country’s infrastructure with an eye to stimulating the economy. A big reason for the added government spending is to relieve the relatively high level of unemployment, much of it the result of job losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Joe Biden has promised that his Build Back Better plan will make historically large investments in infrastructure, including bridges and roads, along with manufacturing plants, expansion of broadband availability, and clean energy. The new administration anticipates that the program, which is expected to top $2 trillion, will create millions of good paying jobs. Many economists and other experts are comparing it to the federal infrastructure programs associated with the New Deal that helped pull the United States out of the Great Depression in the 1930s. To maximize the impact of the initiative, it’s likely that the money will be spent quickly, probably during Biden’s first couple of years in office.

Most of the jobs generated through the new president’s program will be in the construction, skilled trade, and engineering fields. It is expected that the jobs will provide opportunities for younger and older people alike to be trained to work in new, in-demand professions.

The Build Back Better plan promises that it will create the jobs that the United States needs to build a modern, sustainable infrastructure today and in the future, all while protecting the environment.

Another benefit of improving the nation’s crumbling bridges, roads, and other transportation infrastructure is to make the movement of people and goods faster, cleaner, and more dependable. The new team in The White House believes that the investment in better bridges and roads will pay off in increased economic activity for decades to come.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. 

One important aspect of the plan that businesses in the bridge design, construction, and maintenance industries need to be aware of is that it will include language that will reinforce federal environmental regulations, which were loosened or ignored during the years that President Trump was in The White House. Also, the new administration promises that the jobs created by the program will give workers a chance to join a union so they can bargain collectively with their employers. In addition, the equipment and materials used on infrastructure projects funded by the government will have to be made in the United States unless there are no reasonable options available. These factors could impact pricing and profitability on bridge maintenance and construction projects.

What the Build Back Better program is expected to fund

It will spend the $2 trillion on:

  • Infrastructure. It will focus primarily on rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure, especially its roads and bridges, along with green spaces, water supply systems, and electricity grids. It will also provide broadband access to everyone in the U.S., even those living in remote areas.
  • The auto industry. The plan promises to create 1 million new jobs in the U.S. automotive industry, domestic auto supply chains, parts manufacturing, and electric vehicle charging stations.
  • Public transit. It aims to provide every U.S. city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options. This will include things like light rail networks, green buses, and infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists that will make it easier and safer for them to get around.
  • Clean energy. The program will provide money to explore opportunities for generating American-made electricity in pollution-free ways by 2035. 
  • Building improvements. The program aims to make energy-related improvements to 4 million buildings and weatherize 2 million homes over four years. 
  • Housing. It will fund the construction of 1.5 million sustainable homes and other types of residential units, including apartments.
  • Innovation efforts. Build Back Better will invest in novel clean energy technology, including battery storage, negative emissions options, the next generation of environmentally friendly building materials, renewable hydrogen, and advanced nuclear opportunities.
  • Agriculture and conservation. Biden plans to create jobs in climate-smart agriculture, resilience, and conservation. This will include work plugging abandoned oil and natural gas wells and reclaiming old coal, hard rock, and uranium mines.

The infrastructure jobs that will be created

The Biden administration firmly believes that American workers should build American infrastructure and manufacture the materials that go into it. 

They’re committed to making it possible for people to:

  • Have the choice to join a union and collectively bargain. 
  • Earn middle-class wages.
  • Secure a full range of benefits, including health insurance and paid time off.
  • Be classified as employees rather than independent contractors, as appropriate.

The owners of bridge-related businesses must be aware that it’s likely that if the Biden infrastructure plan is passed, the government will hold the executives at companies that receive funds from it personally liable if they interfere with union-organizing efforts. The same will be true if they don’t follow wage and labor guidelines. It is likely that firms receiving taxpayer dollars will probably have to commit to paying workers at least $15 per hour, providing paid leave, and maintaining fair overtime and scheduling practices, along with guaranteeing an option to join a union. Employers will also be expected to maintain a diverse workforce and hire people trained by accredited apprenticeship programs, when possible.

What the Biden plan means for bridge infrastructure projects

The President wants to create a “smarter” form of bridge and road infrastructure. Bridges and any associated structures will have to be resilient to floods, fires, and other climate-related threats. That means they can’t be at risk of being destroyed because of environmental changes. They will also need to support healthy and safe communities, and they can’t negatively impact the environment. Wherever possible, they should encourage shared economic and educational advancement for surrounding communities.

The likelihood of Congress passing the Build Back Better program

Cost-justifying government spending on infrastructure is something that the previous administration was never able to do. It’s one of the reasons that a major infrastructure package hasn’t been approved by Congress in many years. Being able to explain the benefits of the program to the American people and the fact that all three branches of government are controlled by a single party make it more likely that a large infrastructure spend could be approved soon.

During his recent Senate confirmation hearing, the new Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, received a positive reception from senators of both parties, and many signaled through their comments that they could be open to supporting a large spend on bridge, road, and other types of infrastructure. 

Stay tuned. BridgeMasters will continue to monitor this development and report on the status of government infrastructure spend and how it could impact businesses in the bridge design, development, and maintenance industries.