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US DOT Officials Share Plans for Infrastructure Funds

Top officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation are beginning to lay out a vision for how the recent passage of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package will unfold and begin funding projects across the nation.

Union Station in Washington, D.C.
Shutterstock/Kristi Blokhin
In the next six months, transit agencies, transportation departments and other organizations which play a part in the vast United States movement ecosystem could begin to see how the recently passed federal infrastructure package will unfold.

“This is, I think, a transformational moment in American transportation,” U.S. Transportation Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg told reporters during a media briefing Tuesday to discuss the $1.2 trillion package, which is set to be spent over the next five years.

The legislation will send $90 billion to public transit, “the largest investment in transit in U.S. history,” Trottenberg remarked. It will allow for the replacement of some 1,800 subway, light-rail and commuter rail cars and swap out 10,000 fossil fuel-powered buses for zero-emission models, among other improvements.

The funding — which will be funneled through a range of grant, pilot and related programs — is envisioned as a once-in-a-generation move to not only shore up aging systems, but reposition the nation’s priorities around transportation, placing climate change and social equity at the moral and philosophical center.

“We are an administration that is focused on tackling climate change and equity in a way that I’ve never seen before in my time in government,” said Trottenberg, adding the transportation department will be working closely with state and local departments of transportation, along with airports, transit agencies and others “to transform the system.”

A key feature of the infrastructure package is a goal to encourage the continued adoption of electric vehicles through a series of incentives, but also the development of a half-million EV charging stations by 2030.

A goal around the electric vehicle charging infrastructure part of the initiative will be to form partnerships with state and local agencies, as well as the private sector, and to “ensure that we are investing in places that aren’t the first places that private-sector investors are going to go to — inner-city, multifamily locations, corridors along the interstate," said Carlos Monje, deputy undersecretary at the U.S. Transportation Department. "And how do we site, plan and deploy those chargers in a way that gets the rest of the market up and moving.”

Nuts-and-bolts transportation infrastructure in the form of roads and bridges will also see significant funding.

“This is going to be the largest investment in roadways that we have seen, I think, since the interstate era,” said Trottenberg.

Even though the legislation — known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — has been debated and negotiated for months, it only received final congressional approval last week. And policymakers were careful to not get too specific in actual timelines for funding or how certain initiatives in the plan will be scaled back to reflect the bill’s reduced size from what the White House originally proposed.

“This is a five-year bill. Some of the projects are going to take more time, and we want to make sure that we make investments up front,” said Trottenberg. “But we want to make sure we take the time on some of these bigger projects … some of the more transformational things we want to do, that we get those right.”
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.