Two years in, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is making a difference
After her husband passed from Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2019, Kim Guess suddenly became a single mom who needed to support her family. The Kalamazoo, Michigan resident launched a dance group fitness studio named Guess Who’s Dancing. Later, she became the part-owner of downtown Kalamazoo’s first Black-owned event venue space, the Xperience.
But there is a problem.
The roads surrounding her business are among the city’s top 25 most dangerous roads. They are all one-way, unsafe for pedestrians, dangerous at night due to a lack of streetlights, and difficult for her customers to navigate their way to Kim’s business.
“Last year, I witnessed an accident where a car hit a child crossing an intersection,” Kim writes. “It was scary because, as a mother, you can’t help but think about your own child.”
Now, help is on the way.
Because of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Kalamazoo is breaking ground on the Streets for All project, which will make Kalamazoo’s downtown area safer, more inviting, and more prosperous for local business. The project will turn one-way streets into two-way streets, slowing traffic, and increasing walkability. It is expected to bring a $22 million benefit to the downtown community – a lot of money for a struggling community that recently registered a 27.8% poverty rate.
Wednesday, November 15, marks two years since President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. In just two years, funding has been announced for nearly 40,000 projects reaching more than 4,500 communities across all 50 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico.
In addition to addressing infrastructure issues, the new law is aimed at addressing inequality by making sure disadvantaged communities and communities of color benefit from it. For example, according to an EPA fact sheet, “A key priority of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is to ensure that disadvantaged communities benefit equitably from this historic investment in water infrastructure. Disadvantaged communities can include those with environmental justice concerns that often are low-income and communities of color.”
When Deanna Branch of Milwaukee took her 2-year-old son in for a doctor’s visit, she discovered that he had lead poisoning – the result of lead paint and lead pipes in the family’s rental home. To protect the health of Deanna’s two children, the family left the rental home and ended up spending several months in a shelter.
Under the new law, $3 billion has been allocated for a massive acceleration of lead removal programs. “Milwaukee has a massive problem with lead paint and lead pipes,” Deanna said. “Even to this day, we don’t trust the water in our sink…The Biden Administration’s funds to remove lead infrastructure will go a long way toward making us feel safe in our homes again.”
Another group of Americans who will benefit from the new law are union members, whose ranks in some parts of the country have been decimated over the course of the last generation.
As the Business Manager for the Tri-State Building and Construction Trades Council, John Holbrook represents more than 25,000 union workers living in northeastern Kentucky, southwestern West Virginia, and south-central Ohio.
One thing that has been on John’s mind a lot lately is the Brent Spence Bridge, which crosses the Ohio River, connecting the Buckeye State with Kentucky. The bridge is key to the Cincinnati metro area and is an indispensable trucking route – it accounts for a staggering 3 percent of the nation’s GDP. Some 30,000 trucks cross it every day.
But the bridge is sorely in need of repair. That is why the Biden Administration, under the nation’s new bipartisan infrastructure law, has allocated $1.6 billion not just for the Brent Spence Bridge but also for an entirely new bridge that will boost capacity for the region’s transit network.
“Yes, as a Building Trades Unions leader, I’m most excited about the thousands of good-paying union jobs that are being created during the repair and construction of these two bridges,” John writes. “While the bridge is not directly in my jurisdictional area, many of the members I represent will be among the thousands of workers making this project happen.”
John notes that many of the communities he represents used to be regional hubs for manufacturing, steel, and coal – but since the 1970s, jobs in those industries have dried up or been outsourced, thousands of families have moved away, and unions have lost membership.
John adds, “I’ve been working in America’s building trades for over 33 years. And since I joined the Local 248 Plumbers and Steamfitters union at age 20, I have never seen a more promising time for our field and our workers than today.”
Another group of Americans the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is helping is rural residents – for example, in the area of better broadband buildout and more affordable access to the internet.
Sally Weldon loves her rustic home in rural North Carolina. But she has an internet problem. Most folks in urban areas have an internet connection of 200 megabits (Mbps) per second, which allows for basic streaming, Zoom calls and email correspondence. But Sally and her husband have a connection of around 0.5 to 0.9 MBPs. “This means we are essentially accessing the rest of the world roughly 200 to 400 times slower,” Sally writes.
“We only have enough bandwidth to use one device at a time,” Sally continues. “That means if I’m checking a bank account or sending an email, my husband can’t look up a dinner recipe or read the news. Streaming videos is impossibly slow, and we often give up watching TV shows midway through after experiencing long interruptions for loading.”
Sally, an IT professional, said things were particularly bad during the pandemic. “As more people relied on the Internet for everything from telehealth appointments to virtual classes, rural Americans lacked the same access,” she writes. “Through no fault of their own, our students, businesses, and health care suffered simply due to our zip code.”
Now, however, as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, the Biden Administration already has allocated $6 million to build out broadband access in Sally’s county alone, and $1.5 billion for the entire state of North Carolina.
“Access to the internet shouldn’t depend on your zip code, especially when so much of our lives are lived online,” Sally writes. “With the Biden Administration’s prioritization of expanding internet connectivity to rural communities, I’m hopeful that my community may finally enter the 21st century.”
One key part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure law is the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) which helps families with low incomes go online by lowering the cost of broadband as well as laptops. The ACP is key not just because it will create jobs, help students learn, and grow our economy, but because it has the potential to substantially reduce racial and economic inequality in our country. The ACP expands access to the internet for tens of millions of Americans. It provides a monthly discount of up to $30 for access to the internet – up to $75 on tribal lands, where internet service can be sparse and more expensive. It also allows up to $100 for the purchase of a computer, laptop or tablet. Because many internet service providers have agreed to provide service in underserved communities for $30 a month, the ACP means that many families will receive (and indeed already are receiving) internet service for free.
The Biden Administration recently estimated that the ACP already is saving 21 million households $30 per month on their internet bill.
Wondering what the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is doing, and will do, for your state? Earlier this month, the Biden Administration released updated state-by-state fact sheets laying out projects that have been approved.