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Another look at Biden’s infrastructure plan

Infrastructure. It’s a word on everyone’s lips these days. With talk of new roads and bridges, lead pipe replacement, transportation investment, internet access, and more, it feels like the whole nation is discussing issues that have long been MPC’s bread and butter.

This week in his address to Congress, President Joe Biden highlighted ideas he’d advanced in a plan earlier this spring. On April 14, MPC’s in-house experts convened an internal panel to discuss trends, points of interest, and questions they’re asking about the Biden #BuildBackBetter agenda.

Here’s what interests our team:

“Excited to see an opportunity to revitalize brownfields in a way that envisions these polluted lands as opportunities for new economic and workforce development. Dedicated funding to support community-driven environmental justice efforts is very much needed, especially in areas like the Far South where there are a number of underutilized industrial sites adjacent to assets like the Little Calumet River. This has tremendous potential to improve and protect the public health of these communities while also providing much needed living wage jobs based on planning for the next generation of industry.” 

Christina Harris, Director of Land Use and Planning

“Much of America’s water infrastructure was built using Federal assistance. Since then, an increasing share of the costs of maintenance and repairs have fallen to individual water utilities and ratepayers. The Biden Administration’s signal that change may be on the horizon is certainly a cause for celebration, with $111 billion proposed investment in the nation’s water infrastructure. Of that, $45 billion is proposed for getting rid of lead service lines, and Illinois – which accounts for up to an estimated 10% of the country’s lead service lines – could see a substantial portion of that. Details about the plan are still emerging, so we don’t yet know exactly how much Illinois will receive. Still, this plan can help Illinois make significant progress toward lead service line replacement.  That would reduce the burden on state and local governments to find equitable ways to finance the rest, i.e., without simply passing the burden on to ratepayers, especially given the racially inequitable distribution of lead service lines in our state.

—Justin Keller, Manager

“It is exciting to see significant proposed investment in public transportation, with $85 billion for transit and $80 billion for Amtrak.   A large investment in vehicle electrification is also proposed ($174 billion), which is very important given that the transportation sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions currently.  We hope electrification of transit will be prioritized, so fleets will be fully electric prior to current goals of 2040.  This is very important for urban neighborhoods with large numbers of buses, which already experience poor air quality.  There is also an exciting new program with a focus on racial equity to reconnect neighborhoods cut off by highway construction.  Chicago could benefit from resources to heal those historic harms. It is good to see that the $115 billion for roads and bridges is targeted to needed maintenance, but we will need to stay focused on fixing the system we have and not increasing our maintenance liabilities via roadway expansions that are not proven to reduce congestion.”

—Audrey Wennink, Director of Transportation

“Appreciate the emphasis on resilience, and the promise to align investments with fighting the climate crisis and historic inequities. This plan’s success will be marked by the willingness to center projects that are “too large or complex”, to borrow a phrase used in the Ports, Waterways, and Airports section. The administration should ensure there’s much more room for projects like Powderhorn Lake Restoration in Chicago’s Calumet Region and the Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge in San Antonio, TX. These projects are just two examples of the multi-purpose infrastructure the Great Lakes and US needs to combat historic inequities and urgent crises.”

—Ryan Wilson, Manager of Water Resources

Now is an excellent time to make generational investments in our nation’s infrastructure. If we seize the opportunity for action, we can help people get around on good roads and transit, make sure water stays safe to drink, nobody fears flooding of their homes or workplace, our communities are diverse and thriving, and all residents can reach their full potential.

For additional Metropolitan Planning Council input on the American Jobs Plan, check out Great Lakes Now’s interview with MPC President MarySue Barrett.