A closer look at the infrastructure bill

A closer look at the infrastructure bill
By Jack Allen, Brian Calvert, and Rich Walter
Sep 20, 2021
4 MIN. READ
The infrastructure bill currently making its way through Congress has been a hot topic since Biden took office in January. Here’s a closer look at some of its key elements.

The U.S. Senate passed the $1 trillion Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684), with approximately $550 billion in new spending, in a bipartisan 69-30 vote in August. The bill includes measures to help current and future generations, such as spending for roads, bridges, and public transit; a major expansion of high-speed internet; and funding for clean drinking water. It also includes new measures to address climate change, like modernizing the power grid and money for electric vehicles. 

A focus on transportation 

With new federal spending, the bill focuses mostly on immediate infrastructure projects. While project targets are diverse, the bill is described as “the largest federal investment in public transit in history.” Here are highlights of areas that would get major new spending: 

Transportation infrastructure funding (above FAST Act baseline) - $304B 

  • $110B for roads, bridges, and major projects 
  • $66B for passenger and freight rail 
  • $39.2B for public transit 
  • $25B for airports 
  • $20B for infrastructure financing 
  • $16.6B for ports and waterways 
  • $11B for safety 
  • $7.5B for electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure
  • $7.5B for electric buses/transit/ferries 

Competitive grant program highlights:  

  • Bridge Investment Program for repair and replacement of bridges, $9.2B over five years
  • National Significant Multimodal Freight and Highway Program, $8.7B over five years
  • Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program, $2B over five years
  • EV Infrastructure Grants, $2.5B over five years
  • Protect Grants, $1.4B over five years
  • Reconnecting Communities Pilot Grant Program, $1B over five years

Other infrastructure spending 

The bill also takes action on crucial non-transportation infrastructure spending: 

Non-transportation infrastructure, $261B 

  • $65B for power and grid infrastructure
  • $65B for broadband infrastructure
  • $55B for water infrastructure 
  • $47B for resiliency projects 
  • $21B for environmental remediation  
  • $8.3B for western water storage   

Environmental compliance 

While the bill includes substantial funding for infrastructure projects, projects must go through environmental compliance—such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)—and permitting to be realized. Our team is familiar with the often complex process of environmental reviews that are an important and legally mandated instrument for environmental protection serving the public good. 

The Senate version of the bill includes the following requirements incorporating the former “One Federal Decision” framework into NEPA

One Federal Document:

  • Requires single NEPA document for major projects with exceptions

Time limits for major projects: 

  • Average of two years for environmental review from either: a) issuance of notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS); or b) the date on which it is determined an environmental assessment is required leading to a finding of no significant impact
  • Federal agency can lengthen or shorten schedule for good cause
  • Federal permits issues no later than 90 days after the record of decision

Page limits: 

  • Establishes a limit of 200 pages for an EIS
  • Federal agency can establish a different page limit at their discretion 

Categorical exclusions:

  • Requires Secretary of Transportation to identify categorical exclusions
  • Provides process for certain federal agencies to adopt categorical exclusions from other agencies 

Human infrastructure 

You may be wondering about the “other” infrastructure bill you’ve heard about. Although it has also been referred to as an infrastructure bill, the $3.5 trillion legislation— known as the Build Back Better (BBB) budget bill—is focused more on “human infrastructure” rather than the roads, highways, bridges, rail, port, etc. that are often thought of when the term infrastructure is used.   

This legislation is expected to use the budget reconciliation process, which is a special parliamentary procedure that can be used for the passage of certain budgetary legislation in the Senate. Under this process only a simple majority is needed for passage rather than a 60-vote supermajority.  

As currently proposed, the BBB bill focuses on four main areas: families; climate; infrastructure and jobs; and healthcare. A key priority within the bill is putting America on a path to meet President Biden’s climate change goals of 80% clean electricity and 50% economy-wide carbon emissions reductions by 2030.  

In terms of the “infrastructure” part of the legislation, the following are some of the items that are included: 

  • Investments in public housing, green and sustainable housing, housing production, and affordability
  • Smart technology for safe and efficient borders for trade, travel, and migration
  • Investment in Native American infrastructure projects
  • Rehabilitation of aging Veterans Administration buildings and hospitals 

It’s unclear whether either infrastructure bill will pass as currently written. Our experts will be closely watching these bills as they move through Congress and stand ready to work with clients on applicable environmental compliance. 

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Meet the authors
  1. Jack Allen, Transportation Sector Leader, Environmental Planning

    Jack is an environmental transportation expert with more than 35 years of experience in interdisciplinary impact analysis, social and natural sciences, and strategic regulatory planning. View bio

  2. Brian Calvert, Senior Managing Director, Environmental Planning

    Brian’s experience includes managing the planning and environmental work associated with a number of projects. He specializes in National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) analysis for projects involving the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Caltrans. View bio

  3. Rich Walter, Vice President, Environmental Planning

    Rich has over three decades of experience in environmental planning, climate action planning, compliance strategy, permitting, and mitigation development and implementation for private and public sector clients.  View bio

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