The bipartisan infrastructure bill in the Senate is a sprawling document more than 2,700 pages long that will dole out about $1 trillion in federal funds to projects and agencies across the country, aimed at helping build better infrastructure in the United States.
The agreement that was hammered out over the course of months by a group of bipartisan senators got support from 17 Republicans last week in a procedural vote that brought it a step closer to passing. The moderates behind the legislation say they are proud of the "historic" legislation and that it will be good for Americans.
But some Republicans are raising alarms about allegedly wasteful spending that won't serve what is supposed to be the narrow purpose of the bill: to improve the function of roads, bridges, water, broadband and other hard infrastructure.
"Politicians in Washington are trying to spend trillions of dollars on so-called infrastructure solutions, even as most of their answers have nothing to do with roads and bridges which would actually serve the American people," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said last week as he announced his opposition to the bill.
"The costs will be high and results will be few," Lee added.
‘Equity assessment’ of urban areas
Among the unusual provisions of the bill is the Healthy Streets Program, which begins on page 386 of the bill. It would give grants to nonprofits and state and local governments for the purpose of making urban areas more environmentally friendly. It will get $500 million total over a five-year period.
The bill authorizes grant recipients to use the federal money for "conducting an equity assessment by mapping tree canopy gaps, flood-prone locations, and urban heat island hot spots as compared to pedestrian walkways… low income communities; and disadvantaged communities."
Recipients can also use the money to study "urban heat islands to identify hot spot areas of extreme heat or air pollution," to plant trees in urban areas and to deploy "cool pavements" and "porous pavements."
‘Pollinator-friendly practices’ for roadsides
Another section would focus on "pollinator-friendly practices on roadsides and highway rights of way." This would cost $10 million over five years. It would give out grants to plant wildflowers on roadsides, remove "nonnative grasses," and to pay consulting fees for advice on pollinator-friendly roadside management. This section starts on page 474.
Study of driving under influence of marijuana
The bill also authorizes a number of studies and reports – in fact, the word "study" appears more than 300 times in the legislation. "Report" appears more than 500 times.
On page 1201, the bill would authorize a report to make recommendations for "increasing and improving, for scientific researchers studying impairment while driving under the influence of marijuana, access to samples and strains of marijuana and products containing marijuana." More succinctly, the bill will have a report made about how to improve high driving studies.
Study of road traffic impact on endangered species
On page 183, the bill would mandate a study "of the state… of the practice of methods to reduce collisions between motorists and wildlife." The study would be required to look at not only the causes of such collisions, their impact and potential solutions, but also "the impacts of road traffic on… species listed as threatened species or endangered species" and "species identified by States as species of greatest conservation need."
Drunk driving detection technology required in new cars
Perhaps one of the provisions of the bill with the potential to affect the greatest number of Americans over time is the requirement beginning on page 1,067 that new cars contain "advanced drunk and impaired driving technology."
This technology, according to the bill, would "passively monitor the performance of a driver" and "whether that driver may be impaired." It would also "passively and accurately detect whether the blood alcohol concentration of the driver of a motor vehicle" is too high to be driving and prevent the car from driving if that is the case.
More concisely, vehicles will be required to track whether their drivers may have been drinking and will shut down if they believe that to be the case. The policy is a longtime project of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and the group is taking a victory lap online over its inclusion in the bill.
"The infrastructure bill awaiting a U.S. Senate vote includes the most significant, lifesaving public policy in MADD's 41-year history. Requiring prevention tech in all new vehicles will mark the beginning of the end of drunk driving!" the organization tweeted.
It thanked Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.; Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y.; David McKinley, R-W.Va.; Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.; Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M.; and Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., for helping to advance the policy.
Women of Trucking Advisory Board
And as part of a section that aims to encourage more women to become truckers, which starts on page 879, the bill would also create a "Women of Trucking Advisory Board."
The board's goal will be to train and mentor women who want to be truckers, and to recruit more to join the industry. There bill requires at least eight members on this board, which will specifically study "barriers and trends that impact women minority groups" and look into "safety risks unique to women in the trucking industry," among other things.
The board will be required to produce a report for Congress.
The bill does, of course, address many of the more traditional things one would think of as infrastructure, including more than $260 billion for the National Highway Performance Program. It also provides $5 billion for clean and "zero-emission" school buses and funds a variety of transit programs.
Among the transit spending is a reauthorization of the Expedited Project Delivery Pilot Program to the tune of $15 billion over five years. This pilot program finances rail projects and other similar infrastructure efforts that are already underway. Its most high-profile beneficiary has been the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) project to build a commuter rail tunnel under San Jose, Calif.
The money in the infrastructure bill is not a specific earmark for that project like the one that was included in the coronavirus stimulus bill earlier this year. It is going to the program itself, not any specific project. But it is possible that the Federal Transit Administration could award future grants to the BART tunnel project, which is behind schedule and over budget.
Senators will continue to vote on amendments to the bill Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who has telegraphed a sense of urgency on passing the legislation, is likely to call up a procedural vote on the bill some time this week.
This would set up a final Senate passage of the behemoth legislation – which has only been public since late Sunday night – for next week.