Opinion: Infrastructure becomes the legislative Christmas tree

Dalton Municipal Airport is one of 90 in the state that will receive a combined $123.2 million, the sixth-largest amount of any state through the federal infrastructure package that Congress approved earlier this year. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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Dalton Municipal Airport is one of 90 in the state that will receive a combined $123.2 million, the sixth-largest amount of any state through the federal infrastructure package that Congress approved earlier this year. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

With the U.S. Senate unable to approve a sweeping social policy package backed by President Joe Biden, Georgia Democrats still had something to tout just in time for Christmas as money started flowing from a new bipartisan infrastructure law.

The Federal Aviation Administration got to play Santa Claus by announcing $2.89 billion in airport infrastructure funding, readying $123.2 million for 90 different airports in Georgia, the sixth-largest funding amount of any state.

And it’s not just a Christmas gift for 2021 — as this funding for more than 3,000 airports nationwide is part of a five-year plan that “can be invested in runways, taxiways, safety and sustainability projects, as well as terminal, airport-transit connections and roadway projects.”

Just like projects around your house that go unaddressed, airport officials across Georgia already have a lot on their to-do list.

“Spending priority typically goes to safety-related projects,” said Andrew Wiersma, the manager of the Dalton Municipal Airport. “Currently, we have need for funding to remove trees that are encroaching on our runway approaches.”

It doesn’t matter that Whitfield County — home to Dalton — voted almost 70% for Donald Trump or that the local Republican member of Congress called GOP supporters of this bill ”traitors.” The money from this new infrastructure law will help a series of small Georgia airports.

Take Gilmer County, north of Atlanta. It went to Trump with over 81% of the vote in 2020. But the county’s small airport in Elijay is in line for $110,000 in funding, even though state Republicans hotly opposed the infrastructure bill.

It’s the same story for Union County in northeast Georgia. Over 81% voted there for Trump, but the local Blairsville airport will see $159,000 in infrastructure funding.

As one might expect, the big Georgia airports take the lion’s share of the funding. Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport gets over $92 million. The Savannah airport gets $5.4 million. Augusta gets $2.7 million. The Gwinnett County airport will see $763,000.

For many smaller airports sprinkled throughout the state, the funding can help address a laundry list of items such as new approach and runway lights, taxiway improvements, runway paving and work on local airport terminals.

“We are in desperate need of hangars,” one small airport official told me.

Back in 1987 during a debate over a major highway bill, U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., said something on the Senate floor that I’ve always remembered: “Potholes know no party.”

That’s most certainly true when it comes to this infrastructure law. And no matter which party voted for it or opposed it, a chunk of that infrastructure money will soon be flowing to Georgia airports.

Merry Christmas.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and the Congress from Washington since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com.