Local officials Friday hailed the U.S. Department of Transportation’s rollout of a nearly $28 billion bridge program that highlights spending on smaller, local bridges across the country.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides $40 billion in funding for bridges over the next five years, including $27.5 billion in the Bridge Formula Program. The program will dole out $5.5 billion annually to states, and the first tranche is set to be delivered as early as the week of Jan. 17.
The IIJA includes a separate, $12.5 billion bridge program for some of the nation’s largest, most economically significant spans.
The Bridge Funding Program touted by the White House Friday is expected to finance repairs to 15,000 highway bridges that include so-called off-system bridges, which are locally owned spans that are not connected to the federal highway system. The guidance, released Friday, requires states to set aside at least 15% of the funds for off-system bridges and calls for 100% federal funding, dropping the traditional 20% match.
The first tranche totaling $5.2 billion will begin to flow as soon as next week to states, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C., and $165 million for tribes, U.S. DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a press conference in Philadelphia Friday.
“Now we’re in delivery mode,” Buttigieg said. “The dollars that you heard about are being loaded into the highway administration system literally next week,” he said. “You’ll begin to notice upgrades and new improvements to infrastructure across America.”
It’s some of the first program money flowing under the IIJA, which was enacted in November 2021. Other funds may be delayed as Congress debates an FY22 appropriations bill.
The bridge funds are distributed by a statutory formula and no state will receive less than $45 million every year.
One of the program’s most significant impacts is dropping the need for a state or local match for off-system spans, said local officials from the National League of Cities, which held a virtual press conference with the American Society of Civil Engineers Friday.
“Bridges can be expensive infrastructure assets for a municipality to replace on their own, which is why we’re so excited that Congress put a spotlight on off-system bridges,” said NLC executive director Clarence Anthony. “We’ve always fought for this kind of investment, “Anthony added. “The difference is here is that as cities rebuild and recover, these funds will increase their ability to make local decisions directly.”
Cities won’t be required to compete for the money as it’s allocated by formula, which ensures dollars will flow to smaller and rural communities that often lose out when competing with a larger city, Anthony said.
The National Association of Counties also welcomed the investment.
“Counties own and operate nearly 240,000 bridges,” said NACo Executive Director Matthew Chase in a statement. “The costs of maintaining this essential infrastructure often outstrips our local resources.”
The country has 45,000 bridges considered in poor condition, President Biden said Friday in a speech highlighting the funding.
“There’s a lot of talk about disappointments and things we haven’t gotten done — we’re going get a lot of them done, I might add — but this is something we did get done,” Biden said. “And it’s of enormous consequence to the country.”
During today’s press conference with Buttigieg, Pennsylvania officials noted that the state is in line to receive roughly $4 billion in IIJA road and bridge funding over the next five years but still faces an $8.1 billion infrastructure backlog. Gov. Tom Wolfe said the state would continue to pursue bridge tolling.
“We are looking, as they are at the federal level, as to how we are going to pay for our infrastructure [as] fossil fuel taxes are becoming less and less efficient,” Wolfe said. “We have to come up with an alternative and tolling of bridges is something that is an alternative.”