A surge of road and bridge construction. New transit lines crisscrossing metro Atlanta. Rail and highway road improvements to ease the flow of cargo from the Port of Savannah.

Those are some of the benefits that transportation industry officials say could come to Georgia under a $2.3 trillion federal infrastructure plan that President Joe Biden recently unveiled. And though details are scarce and there is plenty of disagreement about how much to spend, how to pay for it and how much of the plan is actually “infrastructure,” industry officials say Biden’s proposal could be a once-in-a-generation chance to address pressing transportation needs.

“As a country, we have underinvested in all kinds of infrastructure needs for decades,” said Michael Sullivan, president of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Georgia. “We applaud the administration for the boldness of its proposal.”

Biden’s plan would spend billions on everything from roads and bridges to water and sewer pipes to broadband internet service. It would rehab the nation’s electrical grid; invest in renewable energy; make homes and commercial buildings more energy-efficient; and upgrade schools, veterans’ hospitals and child care facilities.

The plan goes far afield of traditional public works, spending tens of billions of dollars to improve long-term care facilities for the elderly and for research and development of clean energy.

Biden’s broad approach has drawn condemnation from many Republicans, and its prospects for legislative approval are uncertain.

“This is not an infrastructure plan,” U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, said recently. “This is a disguise for the Green New Deal, tax increases and other liberal policies. Infrastructure can and should be a bipartisan issue, but it looks like President Biden isn’t interested.”

In an interview Wednesday with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Vice President Kamala Harris said the administration’s definition of “infrastructure” is designed to aid working families. She said that includes roads, but also caregivers for children, elderly parents and people with disabilities.

“The way that we think about infrastructure is the things that we need in place to get to work, to take care of our kids, the apparatus that supports working families,” Harris said.

Some transportation industry officials expressed concern, though they tempered their comments with praise for Biden’s ambition.

“I do like the interest they have in infrastructure,” said David Moellering, president of the Georgia Highway Contractors Association, whose members would greatly benefit from the spending. “The real question becomes, what is infrastructure? When most Americans hear the word ‘infrastructure,’ they think of physical structures like roads and bridges.”

Biden’s plan includes plenty of money for traditional transportation infrastructure. Overall, it would spend $621 billion on transportation initiatives — such as roads and bridges, transit, electric vehicles, and passenger and freight rail. The plan also includes money for airports, waterways, ports and other transportation projects.

The plan is short on details about specific projects. Much of the money would be distributed through existing federal transportation programs. But Congress could set aside funds for specific projects as the legislation takes shape this summer.

There have been hints about how the money could be spent in Georgia. This week the Biden administration released a state-by-state look at infrastructure needs that shows Georgia has 374 bridges and more than 2,260 miles of highways that are in poor condition. It also noted that 7% of trains and other transit vehicles in the state are past their useful life.

In an interview with Channel 2 Action News last week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg singled out transit on the Atlanta Beltline as a project that could benefit. And Amtrak has said it would like to add service between Atlanta and cities such as Savannah, Montgomery, Alabama, and Nashville, Tennessee.

If a big pot of federal money became available, there’s no shortage of ideas for how to spend it. Sullivan said Georgia would benefit from road and rail improvements to keep freight moving as the Port of Savannah continues to expand.

Colleen Kiernan, MARTA’s senior director of government and community affairs, said new money and expected rule changes to federal transit programs could benefit light rail on the Beltline and a planned network of bus rapid transit lines across metro Atlanta.

Biden would pay for his plan through raising corporate taxes — an approach that strays from the gas taxes and other “user fees” that have traditionally funded transportation construction. Moellering said a gas tax hike or similar fees designated for transportation construction would be more sustainable in the long run.

In 2015 Georgia lawmakers began raising nearly $1 billion more a year for road construction by raising the state’s gas tax. That money is paying for major projects such as metro Atlanta toll lanes and new I-285 interchanges.

Even with such major projects already planned, Moellering said the industry can handle additional work that might come with the federal infrastructure initiative.

“I can tell you we’re providing a lot of jobs,” he said. “When you see orange (construction) barrels, those are jobs.”

Indeed, the Biden administration is making jobs a big part of its sales pitch. Harris said the infrastructure plan will create jobs paying $30 to $50 an hour.

“These are highly skilled jobs,” she said. “And the American Jobs Plan is going to create the support around building those skills, around apprenticeship programs in particular, that a lot of our building trades unions offer.”

The details of Biden’s plan will be hashed out by Congress in the months ahead. But while they’re important, Sullivan said it’s the sheer size of Biden’s plan that could transform the nation’s infrastructure.

“You’ve got to go big when you’ve put off making those investments for a long time,” he said.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.

Biden’s infrastructure plan

President Joe Biden has proposed spending $2.3 trillion on infrastructure, including about $621 billion for transportation improvements. Highlights include:

  • $174 billion to boost electric vehicle manufacturing.
  • $115 billion for bridge, highway and road repairs.
  • $85 billion for transit rehabilitation and expansion.
  • $80 billion for Amtrak’s repair backlog and other passenger and freight rail improvements.
  • $50 billion to reinforce roads and other infrastructure against the effects of climate disasters.
  • $25 billion for airport improvements.
  • $20 billion for road safety improvements.
  • $20 billion to reconnect neighborhoods divided by highways built in the past.
  • $17 billion for waterways, ports and ferries.

SOURCE: Biden administration

About the Author