Roads, bridges, the electric grid, broadband and more are in line for improvements
By Steve Yablonski
President Joe Biden recently signed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill into law. It contains a lot of “what this area has been asking for.”
“This bill is tremendous news for this region. This is going to be the largest federal investment in the history for upstate infrastructure,” said Kevin Schwab, vice president for public policy and government relations at CenterState CEO. “You’re talking about roads, bridges, rail, water systems, transit and broadband. You put it all together; there’s never in history been an infrastructure investment for Upstate New York like this.”
The legislation calls for investing $110 billion for roads, bridges and major infrastructure projects. Also in the package is $11 billion for transportation safety, a $65 billion investment in improving the nation’s broadband infrastructure, $65 billion to rebuild the electric grid, $55 billion to upgrade water systems including replacing lead pipes and billions for airports, seaports, public transit and electric vehicle charging stations.
A significant portion of funds will be delivered through competitive grants. That means states and cities may wind up competing for the same pot of money.
“I think you’ll start seeing things get going next year,” Schwab said. “You’ll definitely notice it in the number of road and highway projects; probably be among the first things that you’ll see; a big increase in those.”
There are a lot of projects that counties and towns and villages have got lined up, but don’t have the resources to do, he pointed out.
“That money is coming and they’ll start seeing it next year,” Schwab said.
“The passage of the Infrastructure Bill will definitely bring work to our county and state,” said Tim McKernan, facility manager, EJ USA.
However, it takes time for the money to filter to various projects, he pointed out.
“We should see jobs bidding next year, using these funds,” McKernan said. “Until then, I can’t really give specific examples. In general, one such big project may be the I-81 project in Syracuse.”
“There are ‘Buy American’ provisions in this type of spending. So, USA manufacturers such as EJ and NUCOR Steel will directly benefit from these provisions,” McKernan added.
“The Infrastructure Bill is very good news for our county and rural counties in general,” agreed Oswego County Administrator Phil Church. “Oswego County and its municipalities have broadband, water and wastewater infrastructure needs that are critical to economic growth and job creation, as well as to our residents’ quality of life.”
“It’s one of the things that this bill did pretty well, recognize that reliable internet and the connectivity it brings isn’t some kind of a luxury; it is a necessity for folks. We know that we still have areas, particularly rural areas, that are not connected, not connected the way that they need to be, that’s for sure,” Schwab said.
All states will receive $100 million for broadband expansion, with additional funding determined by need.
The bill has $42.5 billion nationally for broadband development and additional funding through USDA for a reconnect program, which obviously is focused on rural areas, he added.
“The key to that for this region, along with some funding that has already been passed, is that it will accelerate plans for identified areas to have broadband infrastructure extended to where it hasn’t been in the past,” Schwab said.
Once the pandemic hit, it became clear that good broadband is as important as electric connection and clean water and sewer, Schwab said, pointing to the increase in things like virtual meetings and telehealth.
“You’re talking about roads, bridges, rail, water systems, transit and broadband. You put it all together; there’s never in history been an infrastructure investment for Upstate New York like this.”
Kevin Schwab, vice president for public policy
and government relations at CenterState CEO
“These [improvements] are often unattainable by rural governments due to their cost. In terms of water and wastewater infrastructure, if you consider conveyance projects along with other infrastructure improvements, we estimate it could easily cost more than $100 million to meet critical unmet needs,” Church said. “It could cost $30 million to develop broadband service in areas that don’t have it.”
“But now, the Infrastructure Bill has created opportunities for the county and its municipalities to access funding for these projects,” Church continued. “The bill also contains $790,000 for improvements to our airport, large grant programs for transportation, port operations, brownfield remediation, coastal flooding and cybersecurity.”
The bill earmarked $21 billion to clean up Superfund and brownfield sites.
“The other thing, I think you’ll see in Oswego County, is there’s a significant amount of money in this bill for ports and water works. Nationally it’s $17.5 billion. Some of the large ports will certainly get a lot of that. But, there will be money in there for projects at the port of Oswego, Little Sodus Bay other places around Lake Ontario,” Schwab said. “So I think there is going to be some investment on the water side of all of this, too.”
The legislation claims that the bill includes $16.6 billion for ports and waterways. However, that may not ultimately be accurate, according to William Scriber, executive director of the Port Authority of Oswego.
“Why? Because large sums are provided to the Corps of Engineers for civil works construction and maintenance projects. These projects could be related to navigation or they may be related to water supply or environmental restoration such as was done in Buffalo, which has no public port authority,” he explained. “We just don’t know at this time where the Corps will direct the money to go. Therefore, I cannot say [if funds will come to the Oswego port].”
The Port of Oswego has asked for west breakwater repairs for years, only to have been met with limited success, he said.
“This year, there will be a project that the port has worked with Sen. Charles Schumer’s Office on and it appears to be in the Army Corps budget for construction in 2022. In saying that, more needs to be done in the harbor to protect the growing commercial marine traffic,” he said.
MARAD’s (The United States Maritime Administration) marine highway program receives an additional $5 million/year over current levels.
“Last year, the program was funded at $10.8 million. Thus, the new funding level could be almost $16 million/year. If this is the case, the Port of Oswego is one of only 32 in the nation that is eligible for that funding and that is something we would consider,” Scriber said.
There has been controversy around this vote, at least on the House side, Schwab noted. How is it going to be paid for is one of the biggest issues.
“This bill has a lot of what businesses and local governments in this region have been asking for for years,” he said. “We are really pleased that Congressman [John] Katko was among those who voted for this because this is what this region has asked for for years.”