In August, the U.S. Senate passed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill with bipartisan support. The bill now goes to the U.S. House, which is expected to vote on the bill later this month.
The bill provides $550 billion in new federal spending, including $110 billion for roads, bridges and other projects; $25 billion for airports; and the most funding for Amtrak since the passenger rail service was founded in 1971.
Emily Feenstra, Managing Director of Government Relations and Infrastructure Initiatives for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), joined the America’s Work Force Union Podcast to discuss why she thinks the infrastructure bill is close to passing and what it will mean for the country.
With the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11 approaching, Feenstra also discussed how the tragedy has changed building design from an engineering standpoint.
America’s infrastructure is badly lagging
The Senate’s bipartisan vote for the infrastructure bill is highly encouraging, Feenstra said. She hopes there will be a clean vote on the bill in the House, pointing out that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi committed to a vote on the bill by Sept. 27. While certain details in the bill need to be worked on, it is essentially ready, she added.
Though it is a sizable $1 trillion bill, it remains but a downpayment for the true infrastructure needs of America, Feenstra said.
In 1998, the ASCE created a website to highlight the growing need to address America’s deteriorating roads and bridges. It provides an overall grade of the country’s infrastructure and includes detailed grades on a state-by-state basis.
Overall, the country’s infrastructure grade is currently a C-, she said.
If passed, the $1 trillion legislation would mark a historic investment in the nation’s infrastructure. However, it is only a beginning, as more needs to be addressed and hopefully broader investments can be addressed in the upcoming $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill targeting housing, education and childcare, she said.
Lagging infrastructure can exacerbate supply chain issues, making shipping less efficient. It is a drag on the nation’s GDP and results in a significant cost consumers must bear, she said. The bill would be good in the short-term for jobs, but it also has significant long-term economic potential that will benefit the country.
Feenstra pointed to the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Ida. The fact that the levy system in Louisiana survived the storm speaks to the $14 billion investment following Hurricane Katrina, she said. The failure of the electric grid highlights the need to invest in infrastructure that can withstand the increased power of hurricanes caused by climate change.
How Sept. 11 changed building design
With the approaching 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Feenstra also discussed how the tragedy transformed building design. Engineers will not shy away from designing tall buildings as some foresaw in the days immediately following the terrorist attack. Instead, they took a harder look at how buildings are designed and constructed, she explained. This includes using less steel and more concrete and composite materials in construction.