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Saturday, January 22, 2022
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Infrastructure Bill Signed, Allocates Billions to Texas for Improvements

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The heavy traffic on highway interchange during rush hour.| Image by Art Wager

Last month, President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law, designating a massive allocation of funds towards “infrastructure” in the United States. This bill, also called the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, is the most significant investment of its kind in over sixty years.

Texas is set to receive more than $35 billion for infrastructure improvements in the next five years, based on White House estimates.

The most significant portion of these funds, approximately $26.9 billion, is intended to finance highway improvements, while $537 million will sponsor bridge replacements and repairs. Around $3.3 billion is intended to advance public transportation options, and another $1.2 billion will support the development of airports.

An estimated $408 million will go towards the further development of charging networks for electric vehicles. Approximately $100 million is earmarked for the expansion of broadband connections, to attempt to provide coverage across the state to the estimated 1,058,000 Texans who do not currently have access to the internet.

Another goal of the bill is to prepare infrastructure for the effects of climate change, extreme weather events, and cyber threats, with $53 million allocated to protection from wildfires and $42 million to defend against cyberattacks.

An additional nearly $3 billion goes toward water infrastructure to ensure clean, safe drinking water in Texas communities, in part by eliminating lead service lines and pipes.

Of the $35 billion headed Texas’ way, the near $27 billion allocated to improve the state’s road system is much needed.

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ Texas Infrastructure Report Card (IRC), released this February, rated the Texas highway system (which is the nation’s largest) an unimpressive “D+.” This corresponds to poor and at-risk on their rating scale.

The Texas IRC also reports that, between 2010 and 2016, as the population in Texas grew, “daily vehicle travel rose nearly 16%,” causing Texas drivers to experience “increased delays, limited roadway capacities, and deteriorating conditions.”

As a result, motorists in DFW, Houston, and Austin “face significantly more congestion than the national average,” with the average Texan spending “54 hours in traffic at a cost of $1,080 annually.”

According to the report card, “current funding levels and resources from the state’s gas tax are inadequate to keep up with Texas’ projected growth, leaving a $15 billion annual gap through 2040.”

The money from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal will be disbursed slowly over the next five years. Its allocation to specific pieces of infrastructure is determined by a combination of federal formula and priority based on the necessity of improvement or repair.

Highway improvements could come more quickly since processes for these fixes have already long been in place.

For other aspects of the bill, like the charging stations for electric vehicles, there is no prescribed process, so it will take longer to see those changes implemented, according to Patrick Beecher, president of the Texas section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Nur Yazdani, Civil Engineering Professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, told Dallas Morning News, “it won’t happen in a day.”

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