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In late March, President Biden reportedly announced the details of his American Jobs Plan for revitalizing America’s infrastructure. The plan would provide $85 billion to modernize transit systems, as well as $115 billion to modernize bridges, highways, roads, and local roads. The White House is pitching this as a jobs plan and a way for the country to keep up with other nations that are investing heavily in all different types of infrastructure.
The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. a “C-” grade for infrastructure, noting that nearly four out of every 10 bridges are more than a half-century old, and that a water main ruptures every two minutes.
The American Jobs Plan would span eight-plus years, which is consistent with Metro’s Rebuilding America initiative that calls for a long-term transportation funding plan. A long-term federal funding plan would provide more certainty moving forward for Metro and other transportation entities across the U.S.
Per the summary of the plan on the White House website: “The President’s plan will modernize 20,000 miles of highways, roads, and main streets. It will fix the 10 most economically significant bridges in the country in need of reconstruction. It also will repair the worst 10,000 smaller bridges, providing critical linkages to communities. And it will replace thousands of buses and rail cars, repair hundreds of stations, renew airports, and expand transit and rail into new communities.”
As written by The Source, “in the past couple of decades, the federal transpo[rtation] bills have tended to be short-term, making it hard for agencies across the U.S. to enact long-term plans. However, Metro is in a different situation given that L.A. county voters approved a four and a half-cent sales tax to fund the agency since 1980. This means that Metro is often in a very good position to compete for federal funds because it also has local funds to match them.
But as the New York Times wrote, “The president’s infrastructure plan tries to break from the past by shifting spending away from new roads and toward public transit[, and i]t won’t be easy.” This is because the U.S. is dominated by car culture. Over the past 65 years, the country has spent nearly $10 trillion in public funds on highways and roads, and just a quarter of that on subways, buses, and passenger rail.
President Biden’s aforementioned $2 trillion infrastructure plan “represents one of the most ambitious efforts yet to challenge the centrality of the automobile in American life, by proposing to tilt federal spending far more toward public transportation and coax more people out of their cars,” reads the NYT article.
In recent years, U.S. states have spent roughly half of their highway money building new roads or widening existing ones, which studies have found often just encourages more driving and does little to alleviate congestion. Roughly 80% of trips people in the U.S. take are by car or light truck, with just 3% by mass transit.
“There’s no question that the share of funding going toward transit and rail in Biden’s proposal is vastly larger than in any similar legislation we’ve seen in our lifetime,” Yonah Freemark, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute told the Times. “It’s a dramatic shift.”