Congress has paved the way for more than a trillion dollars in infrastructure spending targeted at filling the country’s potholes, installing broadband to rural areas and delivering clean water into homes that, even in 2021, still go without.
The bill is huge, with spending set aside for projects years away, and it includes billions of dollars that will find their way to Utah.
Although the massive legislation received support from both Democrats and Republicans, only one member of Utah’s federal delegation supported and championed the bill: Sen. Mitt Romney.
Romney joined 18 other Republicans and all 50 Senate Democrats to pass the $1.2 trillion Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation [INVEST] in America Act. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill into law, but a date hasn’t been set.
“As one of the fastest growing states in the country, Utah is in serious need of additional infrastructure,” Romney said in a statement when the bill passed the Senate in early August. According to the senator, billions of federal dollars will are dedicated infrastructure projects in the Beehive State.
“I’m proud to have helped negotiate this bill because it gave Utah a seat at the table and benefits Americans across the country,” said the senator.
The largest dollar amount specified to Utah, according to Romney, is $3 billion for highway and road construction and repairs over the next five years.
The funding will boost Utah Department of Transportation’s budget, a spokesman for the agency John Gleason said. About 20% of the state’s transportation funds came from the federal government in past years.
Another $219 million will go to the state’s loan programs for municipalities to provide drinking water. The bill gives money to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which supports projects relating to wastewater treatment and water collection systems, and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which subsidizes water for municipalities with low median incomes or where the average water bill is 1.75% of the median income.
More than $200 million will be used to bring running water to members of the Navajo Nation in Utah, where around 40% of its members living on sovereign land in Utah currently don’t have running water, according to Romney’s statement.
The state is set to receive $50 million for the Central Utah Project Completion Act, a decades-old Department of the Interior project that directs water from the Colorado River for residential, commercial and agricultural purposes.
How will the rest of the infrastructure money be divvied up?
About half of the money is designated for specific projects, while the rest will be awarded for projects that apply for funding, said Joseph Kane, a metropolitan policy fellow at Brookings Institution.
Utah can vie with other states for funds from the pools of money set aside for climate and disaster resiliency, including money to mitigate the drought conditions and the effects of wildfires — both annual problems for states in the dry Intermountain West, Kane said.
Utah, according to Romney, will also have access to $65 billion in funding for high-speed internet expansion to connect rural Utahns to reliable broadband.
States and municipalities need to think ahead to how they can use this funding, Kane said.
“A place like Utah, and others, have to hit the ground running,” Kane said. “The federal government isn’t going to steer the whole thing.”
Staff members at the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget are still looking over the act to determine how it could affect Utahns, executive director Sophia DiCaro said in an email.
“We are currently deliberating a variety of options to put the state in a position of strength and will release additional details with the governor’s budget recommendations,” DiCaro said.
Many people will be asking, “When am I going to see changes on the ground,” Kane said, but “there’s no quick answer to that.”
For some projects, like road and bridge repairs, money can be doled out and construction started fairly quickly. Projects like building rail lines or installing electric vehicle charging stations will take longer to plan and even longer to build.
Congress is divided on infrastructure, especially in Utah
On Saturday, after the House vote, Biden said the “once-in-generation” bipartisan deal would “create millions of jobs, turn the climate crisis into an opportunity and put us on a path to win the economic competition for the 21st Century.”
Those in Congress who voted against the large infrastructure package, including most of the Utah congressional delegation, had mixed feelings.
Utah Rep. Burgess Owens said Utahns quality of life would benefit from investments in infrastructure like roads, airports and mass transit, but said the INVEST Act was a “fiscally irresponsible tax-and-spending spree under the guise of infrastructure.”
Rep. Blake Moore, a freshman Republican like Owens, said he supported the infrastructure bill and that there were provisions that would help Utah, but voted against it as an attempt to stop Democrats from passing an even larger social spending package through reconciliation.
“I believe Congress must be much more thoughtful as we help ensure all Americans have opportunities to succeed,” said Moore.
There has been a debate on if the INVEST Act and Biden’s “Build Back Better” social spending bill should be walked through Congress in parallel, but only the infrastructure bill has made it to the White House.
While sometimes overshadowed by the Democrats’ public struggle to pass the rest of Biden’s social agenda, the infrastructure act is on its own an “unprecedented … level of spending,” Kane said, adding that it rivals the infrastructure spending of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Kane called the legislation a “true generational shift,” because it ushers in funding for modern infrastructure needs by highlighting climate resilience and renewable energy sources.
“It’s actually tilting the country in the direction of repairing and replacing,” Kane said.