Kenneth Roberts, chair of the construction law group with Venable LLP, explains why the need for an infrastructure bill now is dire — but will the promised funds for construction and maintenance actually materialize?
Depending on the details, the infrastructure bill proposed by the Biden Administration allocates anywhere from $550 billion to $1.2 trillion for maintenance and new construction of roads, bridges, ports, waterways, public transit and a host of other targets that fall under the definition of “infrastructure.” But that’s not enough, says Roberts, quoting the American Society of Civil Engineers’ estimate of $2.6 trillion as what’s needed to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The need for such an infusion “has been ignored for decades,” says Roberts, and the money contained in the current bill provides only part of the solution. “If you’re going into the emergency room and expecting that visit alone is going to cure what ails you, you’re wrong,” he says. “The same goes for infrastructure.”
The bill as it currently stands allocates billions of dollars for specific sectors, in order to head off battles between competing interests for one big lump of money. Exactly how the funds will end up being spent is yet to be determined, but Roberts is confident that state and local authorities are proficient at identifying the critical projects that most need to be funded. “This is not a wish list or for niceties,” he says. “This is triage.”
Exactly how the bill will be funded is yet to be determined. It specifies multiple potential sources of money, but lawmakers and President Biden have ruled out an increase in the federal gas tax, which has been the primary means of paying for infrastructure projects for decades.
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