Administration’s Bold Infrastructure Plan Holds Promise For Planners, But Questions Remain
The more than $2 trillion infrastructure plan unveiled by President Biden this week includes transformational investment in areas that planners point to as critical for a sustainable and equitable economic recovery.
Provisions addressing transportation and broadband infrastructure, climate change, and housing - all elements of APA's federal agenda — are central to the American Jobs Plan and others have important implications for a wide range of planning activities.
Biden's plan proposes significant shifts to federal infrastructure policy, including focusing road and bridge spending on modernization, repair, and safety; boosting the proportion of transportation investment going to transit and rail; accelerating electric vehicle adoption and charging infrastructure; embedding climate change and resiliency into infrastructure programs; tackling zoning reform as a housing strategy; targeting support for revitalization and housing in legacy cities; and, increasing direct support for environmental justice and equity.
Here are the planning-specific provisions that caught our attention on our first pass through the plan:
Transportation and Broadband
- $115 billion for critical repair of roads and bridges with a 'fix it first' and 'fix it right' approach advancing safety and resilience
- $20 billion safety program with a Safe Streets for All program to support "vision zero" plans
- $85 billion to double federal support for public transportation and additional funding for 50,000 electric transit vehicles
- $80 billion for Amtrak and intercity passenger rail
- $17 billion for ports, including a Healthy Ports program to address environmental justice issues near ports
- $20 billion for a new transportation equity program to promote access, connectivity, and opportunity for neighborhoods cut off by historic investments
- Support for accelerating transformative investments in the pre-development and planning stages, including $25 billion for ambitious regional projects
- Training and technical assistance for state and local governments focused on improving project delivering, permitting, and environmental reviews
- $100 billion for broadband network expansion with the goal of 100 percent coverage
- Removing existing legal barriers to and prioritizing support for municipal, non-profit, and co-op broadband networks
- New grant program, based on the recently introduced Housing Supply and Affordability Act, to help communities reform and improve local zoning rules, building and development codes, and housing plans
- $213 billion for affordable housing production, preservation, and retrofitting. Funding would support tax credits, formula funds, grants, and project-based rental assistance
- Passage of the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act providing $20 billion in tax credits to rehabilitate homes, particularly in legacy cities
- $40 billion for public housing capital needs, additional funding for upgrading the energy efficiency of homes through the Weatherization Assistance Program, and $27 billion for a Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to aid residential, commercial, and municipal retrofits as well as clean transportation
- $174 billion for the transition to electric vehicles, including a grant program to plan and build 500,000 EV charging stations
- New resilience funding aimed at essential services, such as electric grid, food systems, transportation, and urban infrastructure, through FEMA's Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program, CDBG, and a new program at DOT
- New tax credit for disaster resilience modernization for residential and commercial property and support for relocation assistance
- Resilience provisions in federal programs to ensure post-disaster rebuilding efforts are built back above existing codes
- New clean energy standards and a state and local government clean energy block grant to support energy modernization and environmental justice efforts
- Funding for nature-based infrastructure and coastal resilience to sea-level rise
- Research and development funding aimed at new methods for reducing emissions and increasing resilience for buildings and the built environment
Other Key Planning Provisions
- $45 billion for drinking water infrastructure upgrades, $56 billion in grants and loans for stormwater and wastewater infrastructure, and $10 billion for PFAS remediation
- $5 billion for brownfield redevelopment and additional funding for EDA's Public Works program and HUD and USDA revitalization efforts, including new capacity building and project grants addressing environmental justice issues in frontline communities
- School infrastructure modernization through $50 billion in new grants and $50 billion in bonds
- $10 billion for resilience and modernization of federal facilities
- $31 billion to support economic development through small business incubators and innovation hubs
- $5 billion for a Rural Partnership Program to help rural regions through planning and capacity building efforts with flexible funding to meet critical needs
We have some questions
This bold plan from the Biden Administration comes at a critical moment. Planners and communities are eager to see transformational infrastructure policy move forward in Washington. While there is much promise, there are also important questions that remain unanswered about what will be in the package and how it will proceed on Capitol Hill. We have vital concerns about how any infrastructure legislation will support the planning-led solutions communities need.
These are some of the questions that we are asking:
- Will the surface transportation law that expires in September be incorporated into the American Jobs Plan, and how will the reforms needed in any reauthorization be affected?
- What specific planning eligibilities or requirements will be reflected in American Jobs Plan programs?
- Which Jobs Plan funding will be new initiatives, and which will use existing federal infrastructure programs?
- Who will decide what gets funding? How much control will local and regional officials have? Will projects be connected to plans?
- Will specific language in areas like grants for exclusionary zoning reflect existing legislative proposals, or will they contain new or changed provisions?
- Do the revenue provisions in the plan mean a fundamental shift away from a 'user fee' approach to funding transportation, and what's the future for ideas like a vehicle miles traveled fee to support the highway trust fund?
- If congressional Democrats opt to use budget reconciliation, what limitations will that impose on policy changes in the proposal? Will Republicans support a stand-alone transportation reauthorization moving through regular order if reconciliation is used for the American Jobs Plan?
Now is the time big, bold federal action on infrastructure, and planning must be part of the discussion.
We'll be engaging with members of the Administration, Congress, and other partners in Washington in the coming weeks as we work to better understand how the proposal will impact planners and planning. We promise to work hard to make sure you are informed of the latest developments at the moments it matters most.
Top image: The White House at night in Washington DC. Getty Images photo.