Why Can’t We Build Anything?
“We’re going to fix them all,” President Joe Biden vowed, awkwardly showing up to give a speech promoting his $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill just hours after Pittsburgh’s Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed in January. “We’re sending the money.”
It is true that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $40 billion in funding to improve the nation’s 43,000 bridges, though that’s a relatively small amount compared to the $156 billion it includes for mass transit and rail (on top of the $70 billion that went to mass transit in pandemic relief), plus the hundreds of billions in additional spending on broadband, green energy, and other stuff that only looks like infrastructure if you squint.
But it’s not true that Washington is actually “sending the money.” Because of Congress’ longstanding inability to perform one of its most basic functions—pass a budget—significant swathes of transportation spending are stalled at 2020 levels. In November, the infrastructure bill did indeed authorize over a trillion in spending. But before all of that money can actually head out the door, there needs to be an appropriations bill in place as well.
Carlos Monje, the undersecretary for policy at the Transportation Department, explained in late January that “the department has begun to move forward on as many aspects of the bill as we can, but some programs are hampered by legislative challenges resulting from the constraints that are in the continuing resolution.”
The infrastructure law theoretically dumped $118 billion into the Highway Trust Fund, which can no longer cover all of its spending from gas tax revenue, for example. But under the current continuing resolution (C.R.)—the stopgap budget measure Congress passes when it can’t get its act together to do a proper annual budget—that money can only be spent at 2020 levels, which means there’s about $9 billion for roads and $3 billion for transit stuck in limbo. That C.R. is set to expire right as this magazine reaches readers, potentially triggering a broad shutdown that would, of course, slow all government functions to a crawl, including infrastructure projects.
It’s also not true that “we’re going to fix them all” even when the money does start flowing. The Fern Hollow Bridge was not on the list of projects to be funded by the new infrastructure bill, even though its
Article from Reason.com