A bipartisan infrastructure deal that advanced Wednesday in the Senate would invest about $280 billion into transportation over five years, a sum the White House said represents some of the largest spending on bridges, transit and other projects in the nation’s history.
The money would be split between existing programs that fund highways, transit agencies and airports, and other initiatives designed to tackle goals such as repairing aging bridges and improving the accessibility of buses, according to a detailed summary of the deal circulated to senators and obtained by The Washington Post.
Transit spending, which proved to be one of the final obstacles to sealing a deal, was negotiated down $10 billion from the figure announced in a framework for the package that was unveiled in June. But in terms of overall spending, other transportation provisions appear to have emerged from five weeks of dealmaking mostly unscathed.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called the deal “historic.”
The funds in the bipartisan agreement would come on top of existing road and transit spending set to expire at the end of September. The deal allocates about half the new funding to those core programs.
The American Road & Transportation Builders Association praised the agreement, saying in a letter to senators urging its support that ensuring long-term funding would lift the uncertainty the industry is facing.
“The bipartisan infrastructure framework between Senate negotiators and the Biden administration would facilitate long overdue repairs and improvements to our roads, bridges, public transit, airports and ports, and [create] good-paying jobs,” wrote David Bauer, the group’s chief executive.
But left-leaning groups and environmental activists said the deal would do too little to rein in carbon emissions from transportation. They favor a bill written by House Democrats that would put new conditions on widening highways and includes rules designed to hold states accountable for driving down emissions.
Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., played a key role in crafting many of the details in the bipartisan agreement in his role as the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. He issued a statement Wednesday saying the deal did not do enough to address climate change or promote environmental justice.
“I fought tirelessly for improvements in the bipartisan package to get us to this point, and not all of what I sought was realized,” he wrote. “While there was progress on some fronts, sadly, important changes were not made on others.”
—Roads, bridges and major projects: This is the biggest category of transportation spending in the package, and it would receive $110 billion in new funding. It includes $37 billion to fund the repair of bridges and $17.5 billion in funds to help cities and states tackle large projects by competing for grants. The deal builds on a bill the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously agreed to earlier this year—legislation that adds new environmental measures to federal road-building policy and aims to streamline the approval process for new projects.
—Transit: This sector is in line to get $39 billion in new funding, money that is designed to modernize bus and rail networks. A grant program that agencies can use to build light-rail lines, subways and bus rapid transit routes would get $8 billion, and a program to help them buy electric or low-emissions buses would receive $5.25 billion.
The final disputes over transit came down to whether it would receive 20% of long-term funding from the Highway Trust Fund. The deal appears to set the figure at about 19%. In all, the deal would boost transit spending by 83% compared to the last transportation bill passed in 2015, according to the summary senators received.
—Rail: The deal calls for $66 billion in new funding for rail, much of which would go to Amtrak to boost its core service between Washington and Boston. Of the total, $8 billion would be split between safety grant programs. Amtrak would get $16 billion to support its long-distance routes, and another $12 billion could be used to jump-start high-speed rail projects.
—Safety: Federal car, truck and safety agencies would get about $4.8 billion. A new $5 billion “safe streets for all” program would help fund Vision Zero projects that aim to eliminate crash deaths. The fund would put an emphasis on pedestrian and cyclist safety, according to the summary.
—Aviation: This sector would get $25 billion, with $20 billion allocated to airports and the rest going to upgrades to the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic control facilities.
—Seaports, border crossings and inland waterways: These would receive $17 billion, split among the Army Corps of Engineers, the Transportation Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
—Other items: The White House says the deal also includes $7.5 billion to support a national network of electric-vehicle charging stations, aiming to make drivers more confident to take electric cars on long road trips. Another $5 billion would promote low-emission or no-emission school buses, the White House says, and $1 billion would be set aside to help reconnect communities divided by the construction of highways.