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Behind stalled bill: Infrastructure is about visions for America

America’s roads, dams, freight yards, and so on are getting new attention as Washington wrangles over how to maintain and upgrade facilities vital to the nation. After weeks of trying to negotiate a bipartisan deal with Senate Republicans, the Biden administration on Monday ended the talks. Underlying that debate is a question of values: What should…

America’s roads, dams, freight yards, etc are getting new attention as Washington wrangles over how to maintain and update facilities vital to the nation. After weeks of attempting to negotiate a bipartisan deal with Senate Republicans, the Biden government on Monday finished the talks. 

Underlying that debate is a question of values: What if America look like in 50 years? If it prioritize economic development? The environment? Equality of chance for racial and cultural groups or rural versus urban populations?

Why We Wrote This

President Biden’s struggles to locate arrangement in Congress to overhaul U.S. infrastructure are not virtually dollar totals. They’re also about values: What kind of 21st century if we build?

The Biden administration’s eight-year, $2 trillion American Jobs Plan aims not just to fix roads, streets, and inland waterways but also to combat global warming, modernize child care centers, raise benefits for home health care employees, boost manufacturing, and secure supply chains — regions traditionally outside the range of infrastructure. Backers call it visionary. Critics call it a too expensive big-government wish list.

There aren’t any easy answers. The future of transportation appears especially cloudy at a period of technological and socioeconomic change. 

“We’ve never had an infrastructure bill that would be this big and involve this many sectors,” says Kevin DeGood of the Center for American Progress in Washington. 

United States Route 275 has all of the symptoms of a split character. Running west from Norfolk, Nebraska, it is a four-lane divided highway for 12 miles until, inexplicably, it narrows into a two-lane road and produces a long idle bend southward to Scribner, in which it becomes a four-lane again all of the way to Omaha.

That 45-mile stretch of unimproved country lane irks Josh Moenning, mayor of Norfolk, a city of 24,000. Having a steel maker in town and important cattle-feeding operations in the area, Norfolk sees a lot of truck traffic however doesn’t have four-lane access to a major town. “It’s putting lives in danger,” he states. “And it’s also limiting our community’s ability to grow.”

Detroit has the opposite problem. State and local officials are wanting to tear out underutilized I-375 and substitute it with a boulevard with green space and bicycle paths. That may help revitalize mostly African American neighborhoods the interstate destroyed nearly 60 years ago. 

Why We Wrote This

President Biden’s struggles to locate agreement in Congress to reevaluate U.S. infrastructure aren’t just about dollar totals. They are also about values: What kind of 21st century if we build?

America’s roads, bridges, dams, railroads, etc are getting new attention as Washington wrangles over how to maintain and upgrade facilities crucial to the country. Much of the focus of negotiations between the Biden government and Senate Republicans has been around how much to invest. Underlying that discussion is a matter of values: what America should look like in 50 years in terms of concrete and steel, electric cable and internet fiber. Should it prioritize economic growth? The environment? Equality of chance for racial and cultural groups or for rural versus urban populations?

There aren’t any simple answers. Needs differ by place. States and localities, which have 90percent of the nation’s infrastructure and fund 75% of its maintenance and updating, will play a huge role in determining where and how the money is spent. The future of transport looks especially uncertain right now as the U.S. appears poised to make many technological and socioeconomic jumps: by autonomous driving and the electrification of cars to the rise of delivery services and new, post-pandemic work-at-home structures.

“Everyone has a different vision for what transportation looks like,” states Bill Eisele, head of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute in College Station. “One thing is fundamentally true: Our transport system is the bedrock of our economy. We have to get people around on our transportation services. We have to get goods and services to those people.”

What the federal government can perform with a surge of spending is tilt those decisions in a specific direction. And the Biden administration is leaning hard. In March, it released the American Jobs Plan, an eight-year, $2 trillion proposition to not only mend roads, streets, and inland waterways, but also combat global warming, modernize child care centers, raise benefits for home health care employees, boost manufacturing, and secure distribution chains — places traditionally outside the scope of infrastructure. Critics call it a too expensive big-government wish list. Backers call it visionary.

“We’ve never had an infrastructure bill that would be this big and involve this many sectors,” states Kevin DeGood, manager of infrastructure coverage in the Center for American Progress in Washington. “The Biden American Jobs Plan is a very top-line vision for trying to reorient this broad set of federal expenditures towards [addressing] climate change, equity, [and] inclusive prosperity. But how that actually gets translated into legislation really, really matters.”

U.S. senators attend a hierarchical job group meeting on an infrastructure invoice at the U.S. Capitol in

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