The U.S. Senate just passed its version of a new federal infrastructure bill that calls for $550 billion in additional spending on the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges, as well as a renewed effort to improve the lagging U.S. broadband network. The bill now goes to the U.S. House for their input.
Any RVer who has taken a trip more than 50 miles from home can appreciate the need for some work on the nation’s highways and bridges. Many folks I know have a coffee cup full of nuts, bolts, screws, and washers that they’ve collected over time – all shaken loose from some dark corner of their RV as it rattled across a washboard road or crumbling span over a river.
Setting the politics of the mega-spending bill aside (19 Republican senators crossed the aisle to vote for the bill), it’s important for every American to have a firm understanding of the federal infrastructure plan and its ramification on jobs, local economies and our own RVing lifestyles.
What’s the real total?
The $550 billion in spending approved by the Senate this week is actually additional spending that would be added to previously approved spending. The total is actually $1 trillion in spending on infrastructure.
That number seems almost beyond comprehension, but it isn’t the largest amount ever dedicated to infrastructure, if you look at it as a percentage of Gross National Product (GNP). In those terms, the record goes to spending during the Great Depression in 1933, when 2.96% of the GNP went into infrastructure spending. To hit that mark now, we’d have to be looking at about $4 trillion on new spending over the course of the next decade.
The U.S. currently spends about 0.55% of its GNP on infrastructure, and that’s well below the United Kingdom (0.91%), Japan (0.94%), and way behind China (5.56%). Infrastructure spending is a big reason China has gained the upper hand as an economic world power in recent years.
Since President Eisenhower forked over the funding for the nation’s interstate highway system in the late 1950s, most infrastructure spending has been on the backs of local governments (about 78%). Although local officials certainly have a better feel for local needs, they have been left short of funds over the years. That’s a big reason we find ourselves with a crumbling infrastructure now.
The Biden administration’s plan is to reassert the federal government into public works spending in a big way.
What does the bill include?
Here’s the breakdown:
- $110 billion to repair highways, bridges, and roads. It’s estimated that 173,000 miles of roads are in poor condition. The $40 billion for bridges alone is the largest bridge investment since the interstate highway system was created.
- $39 billion for public transit systems, including zero-emission buses.
- $66 billion for passenger and freight rail lines. That’s a record since Amtrak was founded 50 years ago.
- $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations. This is one that is likely to greatly impact campgrounds, as they improve their own infrastructures to handle the expected increase in electric passenger cars, tow vehicles, towing pickup trucks and, eventually, fully electric RVs.
- $65 billion for broadband internet access. This is targeted for rural areas, low-income families and tribal communities through state grants. But any access improvements will likely trickle down to campgrounds and parks.
- $65 billion to modernize the electric grid. Any RVer should welcome an electric grid upgrade to prevent widespread outages.
- $25 billion for airports. For improved runways, gates and taxiways.
- $55 billion for drinking water safety. Again, clean water is something everyone should have easy access to.
Why it should matter to RVers
Infrastructure is one of those things that nobody notices when things are working well. Good roads and bridges keep the delivery trucks (and RVs) rolling smoothly.
When things are falling apart or road systems and bridges don’t keep pace with demand, you get what we are living with now: long delays for a patchwork of minimal road repairs, decaying and dangerous bridges, and overpasses that “just miss” being high enough for your RV air conditioner units.
It’s not just about a smoother ride for your Winnebago. Think about the vast network of delivery trucks needed to keep the currently crippled supply chains moving for parts for new RVs and replacement pieces. When things take longer due to poor road conditions, costs go up.
The White House is projecting that the bill will add at least 2 million new jobs over the next decade.
Paying for it all
President Biden has vowed that nobody earning less than $400,000 will notice a hit on their tax bill. The money is slated to come from $210 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief aid and $53 billion in additional unemployment insurance aid that some states have halted.
The bottom line is that the infrastructure bill is a very big deal for all Americans. It’s going to impact the way we travel as well as the overall quality of our lives. It deserves our full attention.