The scope of the historical infrastructure bill enacted in 2021 and its potential impact were discussed here in one of our earlier blogs. The various government agencies and all fifty states have now had time to respond, and money is flowing. What does the practical side of this massive works project mean for truckers now and into 2023?
Managing the Spending
Once the long-awaited bill was enacted, it took several months for the government to lay out its initial rules and regulations for spending. The first detailed guidance was published in January of this year in the form of the Guidebook to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for State, Local, and Territorial Governments. This has been followed up with a continual stream of publications and requirements. These include:
- The Rural Infrastructure Playbook in April provides information on local and rural governments implementing the Act.
- Guidance in May to federal agencies specifies permitting practices for permitting proposed and approved projects.
- Releasing $573 million in funding in June for eliminating railroad crossings under the Railroad Crossing Elimination Program.
- The release of an additional $12.5 billion (added to the earlier $27.5 billion) in bridge investment funds for repair and update of bridges.
In addition to these governmental processes, the industry is pushing for new considerations on proposed budgets due to the unexpected impact of inflation. These and related issues have also impacted the Buy America provisions of the Act, resulting in a 180-day waiver of that requirement.
All these items and a host of additional issues and steps in the funding process have delayed much of the impact of the spending on activities that will begin in 2023 and carry forward for an expected five or more years.
Understanding Where and When Projects Commence
The White House has taken aggressive steps to continually publicize the implementation of various aspects of the Act. On the first anniversary of the passage, an update was published. This summary includes a detailed U.S. map that shows where work is underway. The White House also promised to keep this map regularly updated.
The summary indicates that nearly 3,000 bridge and repair as well as replacement projects will be underway by the end of 2022 and into 2023. Of major interest to those who travel in the Northeast Corridor is the major work that is now commencing on railways and related bridges, including the “East River Tunnel in New York, the Connecticut River Bridge, and the Susquehanna River Bridge and Frederick Douglas Tunnel in Maryland.”
In addition, 26 projects are underway in major transportation centers focused on making the roadways and intermodal facilities safer and “more resilient.” These projects will impact those truckers who work at ports and intermodal transfer points.
The government has also now issued more than 166 grants to rural and urban projects that are intended to “modernize roads, bridges, transit, rail, ports, and intermodal transportation.” These smaller endeavors will have a local impact in many cities, large and small.
Looking beyond those current expenditures, the significant investment in airports, ports, waterways, and land ports of entry are planned for allocation in 2023 with more than 76 projects planned in more than 40 separate locations. Work on these projects is now moving from the planning stages with work commencing next year.
One long-anticipated benefit for over-the-road truckers is a significant investment in new truck parking and truck stops, which will be one short-term compensation for detours and construction bottlenecks.
The infrastructure legislation also took a step toward opening up driving careers for younger drivers. Numerous schools are now responding, and states are passing updated regulations to mesh with the new federal Entry Level CDL licensing regulations.
Tracking the Impact
Industry carriers and owner-operators alike are taking steps to monitor delays and detours related to this unprecedented level of spending and construction disruptions. Several new websites are also tracking the spending and projects provide regularly updated information.
New technologies and routing software will provide valuable assistance in the next five or more years. However, like checking the weather, drivers will be well-served to ensure they check their routes against projects being funded by this legislation.