White House, Lawmakers Evaluate IIJA on Second Anniversary
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President Joe Biden and senior administration officials including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have kicked off a national conversation about infrastructure policy ahead of the two-year anniversary of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, or IIJA. The bipartisan infrastructure law, designed to modernize the nation’s connectivity network, was signed into law Nov. 15, 2021.
Earlier this month, Biden was in his home state of Delaware to highlight $16 billion for passenger rail projects along the Northeast. The funding award — specific to Amtrak’s operations — is part of the president’s broader “Bidenomics” infrastructure agenda anchored primarily by the enactment of the $1.2 trillion law. Biden, seeking a second term, said there’s plenty to discuss when it comes to his infrastructure and economic agenda.
“How can you be the leading country in the world and have a second-rate infrastructure — second-rate infrastructure? It’s not possible,” Biden said Nov. 6. “[IIJA] included the largest investment in passenger rail since Amtrak was created 50 years ago: $66 billion for world-class rail right here at home. And that includes the largest investment in the Northeast Corridor since the Pennsylvania Railroad laid down these tracks in 1850.”
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) joined Biden at the Nov. 6 event in The First State. Reflecting on the IIJA’s two-year mark during a committee hearing on Capitol Hill the following day, the chairman explained: “That’s a bill that really first took shape right here in this room. And which enjoyed enormous bipartisan support and became — maybe — the most substantial, meaningful infrastructure package in the history of our country.”
This is a Big Deal. The investments we're making today, like the Gateway Project, will reduce travel delays for millions of people. pic.twitter.com/IRNzpYb31m — Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) November 9, 2023
Carper added, “We’re very proud of our role in helping to create it.”
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) echoed much of Carper’s sentiment as he celebrated the infrastructure law. “Today’s [Federal Railroad Administration] funding enables intercity passenger rail in the Northeast Corridor to improve its performance and efficiency in getting people where they need to be,” Larsen said Nov. 6. “The investments made in the bipartisan infrastructure law continue delivering for Americans, creating safer, cleaner, greener and more accessible rail systems.”
Senior congressional Republicans, meanwhile, maintain a focus on the IIJA’s implementation. House transportation committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.), an advocate for superior supply chain connectivity, recently stressed that stakeholders have been raising concerns about the Biden administration’s management of the law. At issue, Graves emphasized, is the pace and directives associated with IIJA’s implementation — particularly at the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“DOT has issued a number of grant requests and awards. As we’ve raised before, these grant programs should follow the intent of the law and focus on projects that actually improve our infrastructure network and mobility, and not use guidance that undercuts congressional direction just to accelerate projects that fit the administration’s own agenda,” Graves told Buttigieg during a hearing ahead of IIJA’s two-year mark. “So it’s clear, we have work to do in managing current transportation policy and funding.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), EPW ranking member, was instrumental in helping to craft aspects of the IIJA. On Nov. 8, she took direct aim at Bidenomics on the floor of the Senate: “I encourage President Biden and my colleagues across the aisle to heed the calls of the American people who face challenges in their pocketbooks every single day.”
She continued, “Every trip they make to the grocery store, every time they fill up their gas tank, every time they look at their monthly checkbook. The focus should be on them, not the persistent and empty pursuit of ‘Bidenomics.’ ”
To promote the law’s impact on projects and systems related to planes, trains and automobiles, Buttigieg has been touring the country. During a recent trip to the Big Apple, the secretary highlighted construction of a once-delayed rail tunnel project between New York and New Jersey.
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“Under President Biden, we are finally delivering the generational investments in passenger rail that Americans have wanted for years, including modernizing the busiest rail corridor in the country,” Buttigieg emphasized. “These investments will make our busiest passenger railroad safer, faster and more reliable, which means fewer delays and shorter commutes for the 800,000 passengers who rely on the Northeast Corridor every day.”
“The president’s investments in rail are the boldest ever, and they’re going to bring immediate benefits to communities and the economy while laying the foundation for generations of growth,” added FRA Administrator Amit Bose.
DOT recently announced more than $653 million for 41 port improvement projects. The funding stems from nearly $17 billion included in the bipartisan infrastructure law. Last month, the department announced $82.6 million in grants to 235 communities for planning and projects meant to improve safety and prevent deaths and serious injuries on roadways.