While many finer aspects of the massive infrastructure bill that President Biden signed last fall are still in flux — including exactly how much of the $550 billion in new spending will make its way to Genesee County — the measure as a whole promises to boost American businesses’ ability to compete domestically and internationally.
So says U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, the Flushing Democrat whose 5th District encompasses Genesee County.
“The ability for our local businesses to compete is affected by a lot of things,” he said. “Certainly access to workforce is one. But there’s also the additional barriers that come with having obsolete infrastructure work against us in a globally competitive economy. We have a lot of small businesses that could expand their reach in both domestic and global markets but can’t compete because of the high cost of transportation of goods.” The infrastructure bill, formally known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, will kick off a building spree that observers, such as the Brookings Institution, say is larger than even what happened during the New Deal.
The landmark legislation is designed to rebuild and develop a wide range of infrastructure. Federal agencies such as the departments of Transportation and Energy are working to implement the law and get money out the door, meaning the measure won’t immediately spark a slew of projects. Rather, it involves a longer-term approach to rebuilding American competitiveness through infrastructure.
But according to the White House, Michigan can expect to receive at least:
- Roads, Highways and Bridges: $7.3 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $563 million for bridge replacement and repairs over five years. Michigan can also compete for the $12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program for economically significant bridges and nearly $16 billion of national funding in the bill dedicated for major projects that will deliver substantial economic benefits to communities.
- Public Transit: $1 billion over five years to improve public transportation options across the state.
- Ensuring Clean Water: $1.3 billion over five years to improve water infrastructure statewide and ensure that clean, safe drinking water is a right in all communities.
- Expansion of Electric Vehicles: $110 million over five years to support the expansion of an EV charging network in the state. Michigan will also have the opportunity to apply for the $2.5 billion in grant funding dedicated to EV charging in the bill.
- Expanded Internet and Broadband: $100 million to help provide broadband coverage across the state, including providing access to the at least 398,000 Michiganders who currently lack it. Also under the act, 2,482,000 or 25 percent of people in Michigan will be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which will help low-income families afford internet access.
- Improving Airports: $363 million for infrastructure development for airports over five years.
- Protecting the Great Lakes: $1 billion in the Great Lake Restoration Initiative, which would be the largest investment in the program’s history.
- Modernizing the Soo Locks: $11.65 billion for Army Corps of Engineers construction projects, which could be used to modernize the Soo Locks.
- Combating Climate Change: $23 million over five years to protect against wildfires and $24 million to protect against cyberattacks. Michiganders will also benefit from the bill’s $3.5 billion national investment in weatherization, which will reduce energy costs for families.
“That’s all significant in itself, but beyond that there will be significantly more money that will go based on the state making direct application for specific projects, or getting in line,” Kildee said.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in mid-January announced the establishment of the Michigan Infrastructure Office to ensure resources sent to Michigan under the act are used effectively and efficiently. The Michigan Infrastructure Office will be responsible for organizing and executing Whitmer’s vision for infrastructure, coordinating across state government, marshalling resources and partnering with local officials, federal partners and outside stakeholders to invest in Michigan’s infrastructure, she said.
In the meantime, local officials are trying to gauge the impact of the new federal funding.
“We can ballpark it, but it’s a little early,” said Eric Johnston, director of engineering for the Genesee County Road Commission. “There are special competitive programs that are part of this bill that agencies like road commissioners aren’t sure if we’ll be eligible for them or not. But if we are, that will help.”
Even if the bill ultimately winds up funding a single local project, “we’ll take it,” Johnston said.
The County Road Association of Michigan is similarly tempering its enthusiasm.
“With these kinds of large legislative packages coming out of Washington, D.C., it takes some time to discern the congressional intent and how the dollars will flow out to local government,” said Denise Donohue, the association’s director. “(The infrastructure bills) include several new programs that Michigan county road agencies may or may not be eligible for — we’re waiting for the rules to be written.”
One consideration is that 75 percent of federal road funding is allocated to the Michigan Department of Transportation, leaving Michigan’s 83 county road commissions and more than 500 municipalities to split the remainder, Johnston said.
Also, federal funding is available only for work on major thoroughfares, not local roads that are typically in worse shape, plus local entities typically must pay at least 20 percent of the tab.
However, the new law gives federal agencies the discretion to waive matching-fund requirements, Kildee noted.
“What we’ve come to understand, and what I’ve known for a long time, is that works against communities like Genesee County that are not in growth mode,” he said. “It’s difficult to do big projects when you have to come up with that chunk of money.”
The electric vehicle aspects of the bill also could have a significant local impact, Kildee said.
“That’s really going to be important for the manufacturing base, particularly in our area,” he said. “Genesee County obviously has a very strong General Motors presence. GM has been a leader in electric vehicles. But they need a partner in the federal government, and what we have in the infrastructure bill is a pretty significant down payment on that.”