BOSTON (SHNS) – As Congress continues to work out an infrastructure bill that would direct billions of dollars to states, a high-ranking member of the Massachusetts delegation is pointing to challenges back at home that could be aided with federal dollars.
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, used a virtual address to the Massachusetts High Technology Council Tuesday morning to advocate for a robust package that invests in more than just roads and bridges, telling council members that Congress is still working to pass the bill.
“The gradual decline in our federal infrastructure investment over the years has resulted in an alarming number of crumbling roads and bridges, inadequate access to broadband, and an under-supply of affordable housing and community-based investments,” Neal said. “Here in Massachusetts, we face infrastructure challenges of our own.”
President Joe Biden announced last week that a bipartisan group of lawmakers had come to an agreement on a federal infrastructure bill that proposes $579 billion in new spending over five years.
The largest spending item in the federal agreement, according to the Associated Press, is $109 billion for roads and bridges. The legislation also includes $66 billion for freight and passenger rail, $49 billion for public transit, and $25 billion for airports.
The passage of a major spending plan would have significant impacts in Massachusetts and add to the stream of federal dollars pouring into the state and the revenue surplus that state taxpayers have built on Beacon Hill.
Neal pointed to the American Society of Civil Engineers 2021 infrastructure report card for Massachusetts which says “deteriorating infrastructure impedes Massachusetts’s ability to compete in an increasingly global marketplace.”
ASCE reports that driving on roads in need of repair costs drivers in the state an average of $620 a year, 9 percent of bridges were rated structurally deficient in 2019, schools face a $1.39 billion capital expenditure gap, 328 dams are considered to be “high-hazard potential,” and drinking water needs in the state are estimated at $12.2 billion.
Neal said deteriorating bridges and highways in poor condition “affect every aspect of our daily lives” and also advocated for preventative action to mitigate climate change and future weather emergencies.
“Substantial infrastructure legislation will allow us to advance clean energy production by extending and expanding tax credits for clean energy generation, clean energy manufacturing, and carbon capture and sequestration,” he said. “We have the opportunity to make smart investments that create good jobs, protect against costly environmental disasters, and fortify our economy.”
State Senate lawmakers have teed up a $300 million local road and bridge repair bill (H 3903) for consideration during a Thursday formal session. The legislation allocates $200 million for road and bridge maintenance and includes additional funding for electric vehicles, mass transit, and small bridges grants, among other things.
The House passed the annual bill last week, and lawmakers will need to resolve a few differences before it can head to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk. The House calls for a total of $75 million for various grant programs; the Senate proposal increases that to $100 million, and the breakdowns for specific grants vary between the two.
Before federal lawmakers came to an agreement on a federal infrastructure bill, they debated the exact definition of infrastructure and whether to include things like internet connectivity, systems for electric vehicles, and child care.
Neal said infrastructure goes beyond roads and bridges.
“Without quality services, such as child care and paid family and medical leave, we cannot build an economy that works for all. Improving our human infrastructure is critical for the United States to attract workers and remain internationally competitive,” he said. “We must reshape the American economy in a way that is suitable and sustainable for working parents, especially women and people of color who have disproportionately borne the brunt of this pandemic.”