By Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics
President Biden is scheduled to sign the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, on November 15. This legislation will enable upgrades, repairs, and advancements to our nation’s physical infrastructure, including train systems, roads, seaports, airports, and pipelines.
However, infrastructure involves more than just the physical structures that enable the safe transport of people and products. That infrastructure also includes the computing systems that control road traffic and air traffic, as well as radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. While the bill is a scaled-down version of the original bill, it provides many advancements intertwined with transportation and logistics.
Roads and Bridges
A large part of the bill involves building and repairing roads, highways, and bridges across the country. In some states, there are thousands of unusable bridges and roads that are in need of immediate repair. Also, the bill increases the number of on-duty agents at train stations to enhance freight safety.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will fund critical upgrades to public transportation, such as buses, rail systems, and subways. Modernizing existing public transit lines and buses will allow more people to use them. In addition, requiring the installation of green technology for buses and rails means using electric vehicles with zero emissions, as well as retiring buses and subway cars with outdated technology.
Airport upgrades are badly needed across the U.S. Many airports are located within city limits, so there are limited areas of expansion. The lack of available land reduces airports’ ability to increase domestic and international flights.
These airport upgrades will not only include the maintenance and repair of terminals, runways, and airport towers, but also the development of computerized systems to tackle long-standing issues that could cause delays, such as adverse weather, equipment maintenance, and a lack of staffing. The overall goal is to enhance safe travel by reducing long lines, eliminating unnecessary delays and a lack of airport terminal space, and overcrowded gates.
Recent natural disasters, such as the Texas ice storm of February 2021 and the landfall of Hurricane Ida left millions of people without power for weeks. The bill provides funding for “grid reliability and resiliency,” which will result in the updating of older power lines, cables, and investments in ensuring the cybersecurity of power grids. To address climate change, the power grid funding will also support the development and adaptation of clean energy technology.
Some communities, especially those in rural areas, lack continuous, reliable internet access.Expanding broadband technology in rural areas and low-income communities is possible by creating a uniform system to provide internet access. This access to the internet will increase real-time access to vital information, such as safety notices, weather updates and road construction delays.
Utilities such as water, electrical power, and gas are essential to the American economy, and Flint, Michigan is a perfect example of how outdated water pipes can lead to detrimental health effects. The lead contamination in Flint’s water pipes led to a nationwide call for lead pipe replacements and upgrades.
The bill will provide more funding for the cleanup of manmade chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in water systems. The cybersecurity of water plants will also be strengthened in order to be resilient against cyberattacks.
Protection from Cyberattacks
The United States has seen the detrimental effects of infrastructure cyberattacks. Gas shortages were prevalent along the East Coast in May 2021 due to a hack of the Colonial Pipeline.
Similarly, meat supplier JBS paid millions of dollars to hackers after a ransomware attack in May in order to regain access to critical computer systems. The new bill will fund infrastructure resiliency – enhancements to make companies more resilient to malware, ransomware and other cyberattacks.
The new bill highlights the need for research to enable communities to cope with extreme weather events. It will provide funding to federal and private companies to address floods, droughts, climate-related damage, wildfire mitigation, coastal erosion, and other extreme weather events.
Several U.S. ports have reported shipping blockages and delays lasting up to 12 weeks. According to Bloomberg’s Kevin Varley and Brendan Murray, “The Port of Savannah, Georgia, on the East Coast had 25 waiting ships versus just six in port, leading all major ports with an 81% congestion rate. On the West Coast, the adjacent ports of L.A. and Long Beach had a combined congestion rate of 56%, as ships waiting outnumbered the ships in port.”
There is a significant need to invest in various seaport infrastructures. Those improvements will provide timely access to ports, reduce traffic, enable more organized onloading and offloading, and reduce noise and water pollution.
Another aspect of the bill is encouraging electric-powered buses, cars and trains. Citizens, government, and businesses all have a role to play in the necessary move away from fossil fuels.
Currently, the United States has about 43,000 charging stations. However, more charging stations are needed at rest areas, interstate highways and airports.
The Biden administration’s goal is to have half of new cars electric by 2030, which will require significantly more charging stations to be installed across the U.S. This goal may also include a major push to replace existing school buses with zero-emissions buses.
All of these infrastructure upgrades have a hidden benefit – they will likely create more jobs, which in turn will improve our national economy. President Biden addressed the unprecedented increase in inflation, which makes it harder for Americans with limited budgets. According to Biden, the cost of living rose 6.2% compared to the same time in 2020.
Better-paying jobs can help offset the increase in inflation. In addition, this bill will fuel the economy on local, state, and national levels.
As AP News reporter Mary Jolonick stated, “The White House is projecting that the investments will add, on average, about 2 million jobs per year over the coming decade.”Many construction jobs do not require college degrees, though they do require some special skills. The bill includes funding and provisions to start more job training programs and get more women into the construction and trucking industries.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a monumental investment in roads, bridges, ports, railways, and pipelines to support both ecommerce and in-person businesses, delivering goods and services, and improving commutes for Americans. As Mary Jolonick notes, “The new law promises to reach almost every corner of the country. It’s a historic investment that the president has compared to the building of the transcontinental railroad and Interstate Highway System.”