Ferries in Alaska, rail in Oregon, States dream big on infrastructure funds Photograph:( New York Times )
Proposed solutions to these challenges, and others across the country, have come into focus for state leaders and transit officials as the House is poised to take up a sprawling $1 trillion infrastructure package whose future is increasingly uncertain
In the Pacific Northwest, the aging Interstate 5 bridge, a main artery between Oregon and Washington, is at risk of collapsing in a major earthquake. Across Appalachia, abandoned coal mines leaking toxic pollutants are a threat to public health. And along the Gulf Coast, states like Louisiana are forced to consider novel evacuation routes to ease traffic on inland highways that often become clogged before powerful hurricanes.
Proposed solutions to these challenges, and others across the country, have come into focus for state leaders and transit officials as the House is poised to take up a sprawling $1 trillion infrastructure package whose future is increasingly uncertain.
For years, officials have been forced to balance an overwhelming backlog of repairs and upgrades to highways, bridges and roads against more sweeping, longer-term projects. But an infusion of nearly $600 billion in new federal aid could change that calculus as states are freed to consider more ambitious ideas that align with President Joe Biden’s vision for a generational overhaul of the country’s aging public works system.
Still, even as lawmakers in both parties agree that such money is gravely overdue, the measure’s fate is in limbo as the liberal and moderate flanks of the Democratic Party have clashed over whether to pass the bill before a $3.5 trillion spending plan. House Republican leaders have also urged their members to oppose the package.
Before the vote, now expected in the House on Thursday, The New York Times asked congressional offices, governor’s offices and state transit officials across the country what projects federal funding could help accelerate. Several state officials declined to comment, citing concerns about discussing a $1 trillion infrastructure plan before the vote. Others said they hoped that an influx of federal funding could fast-track longer-term projects already underway or jump-start initiatives aimed at overhauling transit and other infrastructure.
Here are some of the largest and most consequential priorities.
Ferries — Alaska Marine Highway System
Because Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was a core member of the bipartisan group of senators who helped negotiate the bill, the legislation includes multiple projects meant to benefit the state’s ferry system.
Notably, $250 million has been set aside for a pilot program to develop an electric or low-emitting ferry. The measure does not single out Alaska by name, but as the state with the most miles of marine highway, it is guaranteed to be a site for such an initiative.
The Alaska Marine Highway System — which encompasses the ferries that help connect much of the state — also stands to benefit. A $1 billion program in the bill would construct a ferry system to reach rural communities, and a provision would funnel federal highway dollars toward operating and repairing the service.
Highways, roads and bridges — Alaska Highway
The legislation authorizes money to repair more than 300 miles of highway that stretch across Alaska’s border and into Canada. It also carves out funding for projects in rural areas, which Murkowski’s office predicted could be applied to ice roads or transferred to a state commission that oversees basic infrastructure.
It is expected to provide $225 million to fix more than 140 bridges that are considered structurally deficient.
For over a decade, California has sought to construct a high-speed rail line that would connect its largest cities to the Central Valley. A current priority is completing an electrified route between Merced and Bakersfield. With additional funding, state officials hope to build segments that would ultimately connect the Central Valley to the Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin. A planned route from the Central Valley to San Francisco is estimated to cost $15.2 billion, with another leg linking Bakersfield and Palmdale estimated at $15.7 billion.
After Gov. Gavin Newsom last year issued an executive order intended to ramp up his state’s reliance on emissions-free cars, California began planning a network of electric charging stations and hydrogen fueling stations. The state budget dedicates $1 billion to expand related infrastructure, but officials expect it will need further funding.
Highways — Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels
Set at the highest point in the country’s Interstate highway system, the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels were considered a major feat of engineering when their construction began in 1968, carrying traffic for nearly 2 miles under the Continental Divide in central Colorado. With the first bore nearly 50 years old, the twin tunnels have fallen into disrepair, in no small part because extreme weather regularly batters the area. Given the upkeep needs that have accumulated, the state estimates that improvements could ultimately exceed $150 million.
Highways and urban design — I-84/I-91 in Greater Hartford
Last year, Connecticut began studying strategies for undoing the damage that the placement of major interstates cutting through the Hartford area had caused to communities. That plan aims to consolidate an array of campaigns aimed at improving mobility in the city, both to stitch together transit systems in the area and to help reunite disconnected sections of Hartford and East Hartford. Officials expect the effort to cost $12 billion to $15 billion over a 15- to 20-year period, but will first pursue more incremental improvements.
Electrifying public transit — CTtransit buses
The CTtransit service operates 700 diesel buses that serve Hartford, New Haven, Stamford and Waterbury, among other cities in the state. Officials aim to convert all those buses to electric in the next 15 years, and have pledged to support other districts in similar efforts. The full conversion is projected to cost $772 million.
Rail — Baton Rouge-New Orleans commuter rail
Particularly after Hurricane Katrina overtaxed highways and roads as residents evacuated New Orleans in 2005, Louisiana has focused on passenger rail service linking the city to Baton Rouge as an alternative. Several studies examining the feasibility of that proposal have been completed since 2006, but funding has not been available to move forward. The Southern Rail Commission is overseeing the effort and has requested federal funds to conduct an environmental study. Current projections put the cost at $150 million in capital improvements to the line and $9 million per year in operating subsidies. The route would include four stops between the two cities.
Bridges — New Mississippi River crossing
Transit officials have eyed a new bridge across the Mississippi River near the Baton Rouge area for decades, but have delayed planning because of a lack of funding. The Coast Guard has identified five possible sites, but each requires an evaluation for environmental impact and efficiency. The state estimates that a new bridge and connecting ramps or interchanges would cost about $1.1 billion, and officials expect the project would take three to five years after studies are complete.
Climate resiliency — Great Lakes restoration
Michigan is set to receive $1 billion to help speed efforts to protect and repair the Great Lakes, including preserving natural wildlife habitats and improving water quality. It is the largest federal investment since the program was established in 2010.
The legislation also includes $500 million for a loan program that would help local governments in states set up mitigation projects to reduce the risk and damage from shoreline erosion and extreme flooding.
Bridges — Blatnik Bridge
Opened in 1961, the Blatnik Bridge over the St. Louis Bay, connecting the twin ports of Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin, is quickly approaching what transit officials consider the end of its usable life. Officials from the Transportation Departments in Minnesota and Wisconsin are studying how to repair or replace the bridge, but costs are unknown and new funding is required.
High-speed rail — Northern Lights Express
Minnesota has completed planning for a high-speed rail project that would link Minneapolis and Duluth, stopping in Coon Rapids, Cambridge, Hinckley and Superior, Wisconsin. State officials expect the project will cost $500 million to $600 million, and they estimate the final design and construction could take 2 1/2 years.
Highways and urban design — I-94
State officials now see I-94, constructed in the 1960s to link St. Paul and Minneapolis, as one of dozens of highway projects in the United States that badly disrupted urban areas, leveling homes and suffocating businesses. The state is soliciting public comment from affected residents, hoping to revamp the corridor in a way that reconnects separated neighborhoods.
Rail — Gateway Tunnel
The Biden administration has expressed support for funding critical repairs to the Gateway Tunnel, addressing chronic congestion plaguing the train route that links populous sections of New Jersey to New York. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy flooded the tunnel, leaving structural damage, and progress has stalled given the estimated $11 billion to $13 billion cost to complete repairs.
The infrastructure bill includes billions of dollars from funds set aside for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and improvement grants that could go toward the project, said Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, both Democrats.
Electrifying public transit — New Jersey Transit buses
As part of a pilot program started this year, New Jersey Transit is deploying its first electrified buses in Camden and aims to electrify its entire fleet by 2040. The state anticipates needing $5.7 billion total to acquire and operate more electric buses.
Rail — Southwest Corridor Light Rail
In 2009, officials began planning to build a light rail line that would ferry passengers from downtown Portland to Tualatin in 30 minutes. The line would include 13 new stops, adding rail capacity for the Portland metropolitan area, which officials expect to grow by some 400,000 new residents by 2040. The project is expected to cost about $2.8 billion and is currently on hold until funding becomes available.
Bridges — I-5 bridge replacement
Addressing structural deficiencies of the Interstate 5 bridge, which connects Oregon to Washington over the Columbia River, has long been a top priority for transit officials in both states. One span of the bridge is over 100 years old, and officials believe the two existing bridge structures are at risk of collapsing in a major earthquake.
Several attempts to replace the bridge have been upended by political disagreement, despite tens of millions of dollars spent on studies. Transit officials from both states are leading a renewed push to replace the bridge with a seismically resilient structure equipped with increased space for bicycle lanes and pedestrians, factoring in climate and equity concerns. The project carries an estimated cost of $3.2 billion to $4.8 billion.
State transit officials believe Rhode Island stands to gain from expanding its ferry service, connecting port towns like Wickford and East Greenwich. The state currently runs ferry service between Providence and Newport, stopping in Bristol in the summer, but it has proposed acquiring vessels and upgrading terminals to reach new destinations at an estimated cost of $15 million.
Electrifying public transit — Electrified trains to Boston
Together with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Rhode Island is considering adding electrified rail service between Providence and Boston. Initially, officials hope to introduce a cross-honoring ticket program that will allow commuter rail passengers the option of taking Amtrak. Future phases would include fully electrifying the route, which MBTA has funding to study; officials have envisioned upgrading the line between the two cities at a cost of about $350 million.
Rail — A new Long Bridge
As part of its bid to sharply expand passenger rail, Virginia is pursuing plans to add a $1.9 billion bridge across the Potomac River. It would supplement the existing Long Bridge, which connects Virginia to the District of Columbia, establishing a pathway that would separate passenger and freight operations.
The current version of the Long Bridge was opened in 1904 and modified heavily in 1942; it remains the only railroad bridge between Virginia and Washington. Transit officials have labeled the crossing as one of the main congestion points on the East Coast, and the proposed parallel crossing could help alleviate traffic by dividing freight and passenger trains.
Highways and urban design — Route 1 in Crystal City
State officials have begun studying ways to upgrade Route 1 in Crystal City, part of a major corridor that carries over 45,000 vehicles per day from the Washington metro area to busy parts of Arlington County, such as Pentagon City. Particularly since Amazon announced it would expand its presence in Crystal City in 2018, most likely drawing thousands of new workers, Virginia is planning to redesign Route 1 to keep traffic flowing while adding extra space for growing numbers of cyclists and pedestrians. The state has yet to allocate funding for the project.
Highways — Corridor H
Corridor H, a portion of the Appalachian Development Highway System meant to stretch across much of the state, has gone unfinished for more than half a century. As of last September, construction on certain pieces of the Corridor H highway was not expected to begin for at least another decade.
Now, it is set to get a crucial infusion of money from the infrastructure bill.
Sens. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, both helped draft the legislation and ultimately supported it. The measure created a $2 billion rural grant program that is expected to direct funding toward the broader Appalachian highway system, and is expected to provide an additional $195 million to projects like Corridor H.
Energy and natural resources — Coal and oil cleanup
The legislation maintains an existing program that helps clean up abandoned coal mines, providing $11.3 billion for states like West Virginia for their continued restoration to protect communities nearby. At least 140,355 acres of land in West Virginia require cleanup that would cost nearly $2 billion to address, according to an estimate provided by Manchin’s office.
The state would also receive funding to address so-called orphan wells, or abandoned oil and gas wells that risk leaking toxic emissions and pollution into water. There are at least 4,646 documented wells in West Virginia.
Highways — Teton Pass Tunnel
Transit officials are exploring a plan to bore a tunnel through the Teton Pass, diverting cars from the current route, Wyoming Highway 22, which winds through the mountains. In the winter, the highway is closed to heavy commercial traffic because of a persistent threat of avalanches.
Under the proposal, the tunnel would pass through the southern range of the Tetons, meaning vehicles could entirely avoid climbing high summits and bypass the curves and steep grades that define the route. Funding for the project has been unavailable, and a precise cost is still uncertain, officials said.