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The Infrastructure Crisis That Biden Is Confronting

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The report card analyzes the nation’s infrastructure in 17 categories, including roads, schools, transit and drinking water. Bridges were the only category in which the grade had declined from four years ago, now sitting at a C. Eleven categories have a grade in the D range, reflecting the extent to which bridges and other transportation infrastructure have moldered in recent decades.

The coronavirus pandemic has heightened the need for federal assistance in a number of ways, including on the transit front, as a drop in ridership has sent revenues plummeting — putting more strain on already hard-up transportation systems at both the local and national levels.

But most of the nation’s infrastructure needs are longstanding, and many have to do with climate change. Storm-water infrastructure, for instance, was the one new category on the report card this year.

The extreme weather that compromised the power grid in Texas last month served as a stark reminder of the ways in which climate change can threaten systems that lacked strong public investment. And it highlighted the ways in which infrastructure systems are intertwined.

Biden’s infrastructure proposal defines its purpose broadly, something that has pleased analysts at the engineering society. “It’s nice to see the comprehensive approach,” Feenstra said. “Not just roads, bridges, transit — which are important — but also water, schools, things that can alleviate storms’ impact. That really is key, because as much as we silo things into these 17 categories, we do emphasize that infrastructure is all interlinked, and events like Texas put that at the forefront.”

Biden’s proposal offers a framework, but he will have to work with Congress to write the legislation. Last year the Democratically controlled House trotted out a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill, the Moving Forward Act, elements of which could wind up in a final bill. It included hundreds of billions of dollars for repairing roads and bridges, funding other transit projects, making improvements to school buildings, constructing affordable housing and enhancing broadband access.

Parts of other bills floating around the House could also wind up in the final package, including the CLEAN Future Act, which would lay out a plan to eliminate fossil fuels from the United States’ electricity supply by 2035, and the Intercity Passenger Rail Trust Fund Act, which seeks to stabilize Amtrak’s funding by creating a trust fund.

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