State and local governments across the country are getting ready to put money from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to work. Mayor Acquanetta Warren of Fontana, California has big plans — starting with roads.
"The number one priority will be to get safe streets," she says. "We have an area where the students have to battle to get to school. where the kids don't have sidewalks to walk on. When it rains, it rains out the role. There is traffic, cars trying to get through."
Philadelphia councilmember-at-large Derek Green says the money from Washington will be a godsend.
"I live in a part of the city where I drive under a bridge, where water pours through the bridge every winter," he says. "So making investments into bridges and schools and roads is going to be a major impact for the life of people in the city of Philadelphia.”
Today, On Point: State and local leaders share their plans for putting the trillion-dollar Infrastructure Act to work.
Derek Green, councilmember-at-large for Philadelphia. Chair of the Committee on Finance and Disabilities and the Philadelphia gas commission. A member of NewDEAL, a group of progressive state and local leaders. (@CouncilmanDerek)
President Biden may have signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act eight days ago, but for us, it's still infrastructure week.
BILL LUCIA: Now we head into the implementation phase. This is where the rubber is going to meet the road. What you'll see next is you're going to see DOT and other federal agencies setting the rules. You're going to see state and local departments preparing grant applications, making plans for how they'll spend additional funding that's going to flow in their direction. So this will take some time.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Bill Lucia is a senior editor at Route Fifty, an online journal about state and local governments. As such, he's been hearing a lot from state and local leaders on their thoughts about the infrastructure act. There's always the urge to spend the money as fast as possible. But Lucia says local lawmakers learned some lessons in 2008 when Washington sent stimulus money to states, cities and towns.
LUCIA: So after the Great Recession hit and the stimulus money came down, there was the concept of shovel-ready projects and putting people to work on infrastructure projects quickly. And some people will argue now looking back on that, that maybe some of those projects weren't the ones that should have been prioritized. So this time around, there's a real sense out there on the part of state and local government folks that they want to take their time with this funding.
CHAKRABARTI: Take their time because this once-in-a-generation infrastructure funding probably won't be seen again for, let's say, at least another generation. However, infrastructure timescales do not match electoral timescales. So there will be a lot of pressure on local officials for projects that are, if not shovel ready, then at least photo-op ready.
LUCIA: Another dynamic that's in play, in terms of how quickly this money gets out the door, is that with the midterm elections on the horizon, there are definitely going to be Democrats who want to see this money flowing sooner rather than later. So they'll be able to point to how this major legislative achievement that they have, how it's making a difference on the ground in their districts, or their communities or their states
CHAKRABARTI: Lucia says, of course, though, this is about something bigger. State and local officials have both an opportunity and a challenge. As they rebuild today, they must also think about how their communities need to function in the future.
LUCIA: People at the state and local level, I think a lot of them are thinking about ... how do you use this federal investment? That really is, it's this is once-in-a-generation money. I mean, this is the one time they're going to get an infusion of federal funding like this.
LUCIA: And so they're trying to think about how do you re-envision how your city is making transit investments. Or how those transit and investments are going to connect with housing. Or solving these long-standing problems that the country has around pedestrians getting hit by cars and stuff like that. So that's kind of the thinking here, is rather than getting the money out the door fast, I think a lot of places are trying to think about how to get the money out the door smart.
This program aired on November 23, 2021.