PA poised to get billions from Biden-backed infrastructure bill

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HARRISBURG, PA (WSKG) — Billions of dollars in new federal infrastructure money are in store for Pennsylvania under the deal that is awaiting President Biden’s signature.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s office this week pointed to nearly $18 billion that’s been earmarked to either repair or expand the state’s core infrastructure.

More than half of that figure is for fixing roads and bridges, which engineering experts at transportation research non-profit group TRIP rated between the 11th and 12th worst in the nation earlier this year. The rest of Pa.’s share of the $1.2 trillion legislation includes more than $1 billion for water system improvements and $100 million to expand internet access in some of the most rural areas of the state.

For years, the Wolf administration has asked state lawmakers that control the budget process to include more money for both, with limited success.

“I look forward to the benefits this historic investment will provide in modernizing our infrastructure for the future of Pennsylvania,” Wolf said in a statement Tuesday.

Using the money Pennsylvania has taken in for past infrastructure projects as a guide, the White House estimates the state can expect:

  • $11.3 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $1.6 billion for bridge replacement and repairs.
  • $2.8 billion over five years for public transportation systems like SEPTA.
  • $171 million over five years to help expand the state’s electric vehicle charging network.
  • At least $100 million to get broadband internet connections built up in areas that lack them right now. Wolf’s office estimates 394,000 Pennsylvanians don’t have reliable internet access.
  • A share of $3.5 billion going out to states for “weatherization projects” aimed at lessening the impact from more intense storms that are developing because of climate change.
  • $1.4 billion over five years for water infrastructure projects, like replacing lead pipes and modernizing treatment plants.
  • $355 million over five years for airport improvements.

During a call with reporters Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D, PA-8) said it’s the biggest one-time infrastructure deal since President Eisenhower green-lit the interstate system — which in today’s money cost about $300 billion to build.

Cartwright noted Democrats are only just beginning to celebrate the deal, which emerged after being held up for months by progressives seeking to tie passage of it to the far larger spending bill known as the Build Back Better plan. The final details of that bill are still being worked out by Congressional negotiators.

“We’re stunned that we pulled it off,” Cartwright said. “We have just now got the champagne bottles open, and don’t worry: we’ll be celebrating.”

The Brookings Institution estimates the U.S. will be spending more of its GDP on infrastructure projects than it has in the last half-century once the deal is finalized — even without the Build Back Better plan.

U.S. Rep. Susan Wild (D, PA-7), whose district encompasses Allentown and Bethlehem, characterized the sweeping spending bill as an investment in keeping up or improving systems that have long been in disrepair.

“Multiple administrations have tried to get infrastructure through. It was a big quest of the Trump administration. But the administration that got it through is the Biden administration and it does indeed have bipartisan support,” she said.

The evenly-split U.S. Senate approved the bill 69-30 in August, while 13 Republican House members voted for it over the weekend against the wishes of party leadership. Wild said the deal wouldn’t have made it over the finish line without GOP support.

“All of this is going to ensure that the 21st Century is indeed made in America,” Wild added.

Once Biden signs the deal, which is expected to happen Monday, it’ll take time for all of that money to flow to states.

Though it’s already earmarked for specific kinds of spending, state lawmakers will have to decide which specific projects will get funded and which contractors will be used.