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Infrastructure Bill to Pour Billions into Myriad U.S. Projects

Passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act by Congress will send billions in new public funding to projects that expand broadband and encourage the adoption of zero-emission vehicles, among other initiatives.

Transportation Infrastructure
The future of public transit, electric vehicles, broadband expansion and, of course, road and bridge projects got a much anticipated morale boost late Friday night when Congress passed the long-awaited infrastructure package.

Known officially as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the $1.2 trillion bipartisan package cleared the U.S. House of Representatives under a nearly party-line vote sending the package to President Joe Biden’s desk for signing. The legislation marks the largest infusion of public spending into infrastructure in more than a decade, and sends billions of dollars to both shore up aging systems and jump-start innovation.

The package will send some $5 billion to help fund zero-emission transit. Amtrak, the nation’s primary passenger rail provider, will see its largest investment since its formation in the early 1970s. All told, $66 billion will be invested in modernizing and expanding public transit and rail networks nationwide.

Some $7.5 billion will go to expanding electric vehicle charging infrastructure — considered a must-have to truly expand EV adoption — even if that represents only half of what Biden originally asked for to build out a half-million charging stations across the country.

Passage of the infrastructure package “presents an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate the deployment of EVs, which will ensure that these benefits are delivered to all Americans — even those who never end up sitting behind the wheel of an EV,” said Joe Britton, executive director of the Zero Emission Transportation Association (ZETA), in a statement Friday night.

The infrastructure package cleared the U.S. Senate back in August. However, the legislation was delayed in the House where progressive Democrats held up its passage over other pieces of related legislation to address the social safety net and climate change. Party leaders anticipate a vote on that $1.85 trillion measure later this month.

Passage of the infrastructure bill was seen as both an essential political win for both the Biden administration and Democrats in general, but it’s also a sign to the public and private sectors that work can move forward on projects addressing broadband expansion, urban tech, charging infrastructure and more.

“A lot of what we’re seeing, as far as city administration, is waiting. Waiting for that federal infrastructure bill… waiting for the next grant program, or incentives from a utility before doing anything about creating EV charging infrastructure for the citizens and the community,” said Irina Filippova, chief operating officer at Electrada, maker of EV charging infrastructure, in comments on a panel to discuss charging last month. That panel was organized by CoMotion LIVE.

Broadband projects will see $65 billion in new investment from the bill, significantly less than the $100 billion Biden proposed, but still a sizable infusion of public money to help close the digital divide in rural and economically struggling communities.

Smart city projects can also expect to see renewed excitement and interest. Sanjeet Pandit, global head of smart cities and digital transformation at Qualcomm, called the infrastructure package the “cherry on top of the sundae” during a roundtable meeting with reporters in August.

“It’s going to really take off,” Pandit said of smart city projects. “It’s going to be really exciting times, in the next 18 months, to see how all this gels together, and there’s going to be so much interdependency between multiple agencies within the cities.

“I think what’s going to happen is this is really going to act as a catalyst toward adoption of connectivity across multiple domains and verticals,” Pandit added.

Other observers agree, saying the legislation presents the opportunity to grow smart city projects on the backs of other initiatives. An example, said Phil Beecher, president and CEO of Wi-SUN Alliance, a nonprofit smart utility member organization, is smart streetlighting. Once a streetlighting project moves forward, the backbone is in place to launch other connectivity-based projects.

“For us, we see this as the culmination of everything we’ve been working towards for the last two years, building out this ecosystem, private-public partnerships,” said Brandon Branham, assistant city manager and chief technology officer for Peachtree Corners, Ga., who was also on the call with reporters in August. “And then now we’re going to see this influx of investment coming through to really allow us to expand these things.”

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

What’s in it?
  • Resiliency for Communities in the Face of Climate Change — $50 billion
  • Public Transit — $66 billion
  • Electric Vehicle Infrastructure — $7.5 billion
  • Electric and Low Emission School Buses — $5 billion
  • Ports — $17 billion
  • Airports — $25 billion
  • Clean Energy and the Electric Grid — $65 billion
  • Clean Drinking Water — $55 billion
  • Cleaning “Legacy Pollution” Sites Like Mines and Superfund Sites — $21 billion
Source: The White House
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.