Senate Republicans Concerned About Infrastructure Law’s Implementation

Corpus Christ bridge construction
Construction on the Corpus Christi Harbor Bridge in Texas. (Eddie Seal/Bloomberg News)

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A group of Republican senators urged Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to revisit his department’s approach to aspects of an infrastructure law’s implementation.

The GOP senators took aim at recent messaging from the Federal Highway Administration that promoted certain funding for highway repairs over transportation expansion projects.

The $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), enacted in November, dedicated about $500 billion for myriad surface transportation programs.

20200218 Buttigieg Letter S... by Transport Topics

“A state’s autonomy over decision-making for the use of their federal funding must be preserved and attempts through these policies in the memorandum to influence that autonomy run counter to congressional intent,” wrote the senators on Feb. 18.

“If implemented faithfully to the legislative text, the IIJA will upgrade and expand the surface transportation system in a manner that benefits all communities and the nation,” they went on. “The provisions of the IIJA were carefully negotiated and reflect the input of both parties, the Biden administration and the broader stakeholder community. We urge recognition of the legislative process used to develop the IIJA and adherence to congressional intent as FHWA moves forward with implementing this historic legislation.”

Signing the letter were Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The senators’ letter came on the heels of a similar note to governors, by Capito and McConnell, urging them to properly implement the infrastructure law’s surface transportation components. Capito is the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee on highway policy and McConnell is the chamber’s Republican leader.

“We were disappointed to read the Federal Highway Administration memorandum entitled ‘Policy on Using Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Resources to Build a Better America’ issued on Dec. 16, 2021. Unfortunately, the FHWA memorandum attempts to implement a wish list of policies not reflected in the IIJA,” the senators told governors on Feb. 9. “These policies, such as discouraging projects that increase highway capacity and prioritizing projects that advance nonmotorized transportation options, differ from the provisions negotiated and agreed to in the law.”

Meanwhile, officials representing state departments of transportation recently expounded implementation strategies to policymakers on the House tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Shawn Wilson, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, for instance, emphasized efforts meant to solidify workforce benefits throughout agencies. He is president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, or AASHTO. The group has placed a spotlight on provisions in the law related to equity and reconnecting communities, workforce development, disaster resilience, bridge investment and broadband deployment.

Specific to the trucking industry, the infrastructure law paved the way for an apprenticeship for commercial drivers under 21 and established a task force designed to recruit and retain women in the industry.

“Strategic workforce management, the systematic approach used to predict, prepare for, and manage workforce needs, is an urgent and critical issue for state DOTs. DOTs across the nation have increasingly expressed concerns about aligning the needs and priorities of the DOT with those of its workforce in order to place the agency in the best position for ongoing success,” Wilson told the committee Feb. 15. “As technology and innovation advance, and public expectations and demands for more nimble service delivery rise, agencies will need to reimagine their workforce. DOT constituents are increasingly demanding transparency, accountability, increased personalized communication and on-demand service delivery.”

As expected, President Joe Biden and leaders in his administration remain staunch advocates of the law’s aim of tackling climate change, promoting electric vehicle technology and alleviating supply chain woes. “With our infrastructure law, we’re reinvesting in our economy,” said Biden in Ohio on Feb. 17.

“That’s what we’re going to do. But as we rebuild America, we’re buying American and betting on American workers,” the president continued. “The infrastructure law also helps us invest in a cleaner, stronger, more resilient electric grid, with 100% clean electric energy being generated by the year 2035.”

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