What’s in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill for Georgia

Georgia is receiving a minimum of $8.9 billion for repairs to roads and highways, plus an additional $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs, through the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package President Joe Biden is set to sign into law Monday. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
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Georgia is receiving a minimum of $8.9 billion for repairs to roads and highways, plus an additional $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs, through the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package President Joe Biden is set to sign into law Monday. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

President Joe Biden will sign an infrastructure bill into law Monday that represents over $1 trillion in spending over the next decade, billions of which is headed to Georgia.

It is the first time in decades that Congress has passed substantial legislation intended to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, utility grid and transportation networks.

The vote was bipartisan with 13 GOP members of the U.S. House and 19 Senate Republicans joining nearly every Democrat in supporting the measure. But Georgia’s delegation split strictly along party lines; it’s two Democratic senators and six Democrats in the House all supported the measure.

All eight Georgia Republicans in the House opposed it, expressing concern that the legislation includes provisions addressing issues such as climate change that aren’t directly related to “hard” infrastructure. They also objected to the costs, saying it would pave the way for additional deficit spending.

But it’s a done deal now, and lawmakers are finally celebrating “Infrastructure Week” in Washington after years of inaction. Below is an overview of various provisions of the measure and what their impact could be in Georgia over the next few years.

ROADS AND BRIDGES

Minimum $8.9 billion for roads, $225 million for bridges

Over 2,260 miles of highway across Georgia are categorized as in poor condition. The state also has 374 bridges that have been deemed “structurally deficient,” including the I-75 span over Swamp Creek in Whitfield County that has over 66,000 daily crossings.

The bill includes $8.9 billion for repairs to Georgia roads and highways, plus an additional $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs. Georgia can also compete for grants that could bring in additional dollars.

“This monumental bill invests in one of the things families in the metro-Atlanta area need most: roads that make it quicker and safer to get to work,” U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, a Marietta Democrat, said in a statement. “We’ve made infrastructure one of our top priorities because it’s about safety, it’s about efficiency, and it’s about providing Americans with roadways and highways that connect them to their everyday lives.”

BROADBAND

Minimum $100 million

Every state is receiving $100 million to increase broadband access, and billions more will be divided up among the states according to a formula that is based upon the number of people who don’t have reliable internet.

The money is to be used to address both the lack of affordable internet options, which is usually a barrier in poorer neighborhoods, and the lack of connectivity, which affects rural areas.

Georgia has both problems to address. The White House says 15% of Georgia households do not have an internet subscription, and 6% of Georgians live in areas where the Federal Communications Commission has determined broadband is not available.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

$1.4 billion

The bill includes nearly $1.4 billion over five years for public transportation in Georgia, including $923 million for metro Atlanta.

MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker said the additional money would have a big impact on the regional transit agency. Two projects that could benefit: proposed transit lines in Clayton County and along Campbellton Road in Atlanta. Voters in those communities have approved local funding for those and other projects, but Parker said federal funding would be crucial.

“We’re not going to be successful if we can’t get federal funding,” he said.

AIRPORTS

$619 million

The bill includes $619 million for repairs and upgrades at Georgia airports over five years. Georgia’s rural airports have millions of dollars of projects they would like to pursue with their share of the money.

Airports Council International – North America said the projects to be funded by the infrastructure bill will increase capacity of airport terminals and runways while also improving the passenger experience. The airport lobbying group said critical needs at airports have “become even more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Georgia Department of Transportation testified before a meeting of a state legislative joint study committee on airport infrastructure and improvements in September that it would need about $1.3 billion to fund recommended airport projects across the state. That amounts to about $411 million needed annually. With about $52 million in federal funding and $16 million in state funding available each year, there is an annual deficit of roughly $343 million.

PORTS

$8 million

The Port of Savannah is getting $8 million to help convert five existing facilities into container yards, officials said Tuesday.

The “pop-up yards” will be used to lessen congestion on the docks at the port, an on-shore bottleneck in the supply chain leading from Asian factories to the manufacturers and retailers in America. That congestion — recently more than 80,000 containers were stacked at the Port of Savannah — slows deliveries and raises costs.

Getting many of the containers inland by rail and truck will bring them closer to their destinations while freeing space at the port.

Savannah, the second-largest port on the East Coast, has added nearly 400 workers in the past year, expanding its workforce to about 1,520. The Georgia Ports Authority also has other massive projects underway that will add to the port’s overall capacity.

ELECTRIC GRID

Georgia numbers aren’t yet available

A variety of power industry players and regulators say they don’t know yet how much of the tens of billions of dollars to upgrade and expand the nation’s electric grid will end up in Georgia.

The shift toward renewables rather than fossil fuels to generate electricity adds more pressure to upgrade the electric grid. Georgia Power’s parent, Southern Co., said that by 2028 it plans to have eight coal-fired generating units across three states, down from 66 in 2007. While solar and wind power have grown and a nuclear expansion is underway at Plant Vogtle, the company’s power generation relies most heavily on a fossil fuel: natural gas.

More and intensifying natural disasters threaten the electric system in the state. In 2019, Georgia Power said historic weather events in the previous six years created a $450 million shortfall in its storm-damage account, money it sought to collect from customers.

A Southern spokesman said the federal infrastructure package “includes grant funding to increase the resilience of the energy grid, promote the adoption of zero-emission vehicles, increase broadband access, and strengthen cybersecurity. Most importantly, as our businesses continue to transition to a net-zero carbon future, the bill will help offset the cost impact of this transition on customers. As we always have, Southern Co. will continue working with the federal government and our states, communities and partners to accomplish these shared goals.”

CLIMATE CHANGE

Minimum $135 million

Environmental advocates who spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution say that over time the $7.5 billion in funding included to expand the nation’s network of electric vehicle charging stations could help cut greenhouse gas emissions across the country. Georgia would receive $135 million for this program.

Convenience stations have resisted installing EV charging stations, saying there’s not enough demand. The bill is designed to address that problem by helping fund the buildout of a national network of charging stations.

Transportation was responsible for about 29% of all greenhouse gases produced in the U.S. in 2019, according to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And in car-centric Georgia, transportation generates roughly 45% of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions — more than any other sector of the state’s economy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s most recent estimates.

Georgia already has the seventh-most public charging stations in the country with 3,573, according to a report released Wednesday by the nonprofit Environment Georgia Research and Policy Center. The state also ranks seventh in the total number of combined electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles sold through 2020, the report shows.

More than $50 billion in the bill is also earmarked to help communities adapt to the threats posed by climate change — such as rising sea levels and more damaging storms — that are already wreaking havoc on Georgia’s coast. It also includes more than $65 billion to bolster electric grids across the country, which are experiencing longer and more frequent outages.

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