On Monday, President Joe Biden will sign the new infrastructure bill into law. The bill, which was known for most of the last year of legislative debate as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF) appears to be officially known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The bill includes $1.2 trillion in spending, including $550 million in newly authorized spending, with the rest consisting of previously authorized spending.
The total of $1.2 trillion is a lot for any legislative act, although both the CARES Act in 2020 and the American Rescue Plan Act in 2021 authorized more spending. But the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was passed in the opening months of the Obama Administration in 2009, was less than $1 trillion. Even the earlier proposal by Biden that evolved into the infrastructure bill, the American Jobs Plan, was originally set to cost $2.3 trillion.
Why is the new infrastructure bill so expensive? Well, it's mostly because the bill is very ambitious, and because infrastructure costs a lot of money.
According to Vox, the new law will allocate $110 billion for roads and bridges, $66 billion for rail, $65 billion to expand broadband access, $65 billion to improve the electrical grid, $55 billion for water-related spending, $39 billion for public transportation, $25 billion to improve airports, $17 billion for ports and waterways, $7.5 billion for new electric vehicle charges, and $1 for “reconnecting communities.”
In addition, the other big part of the president’s agenda, the “Build Back Better” proposal, costs $1.75 trillion is in its current incarnation, although the original proposal for the legislation was much larger, with a price tag of $3.5 trillion.
Back in June, WNYC looked at the question of why infrastructure in the United States costs so much.
“Right now, there are a lot of reasons for this. Americans transit agencies don't have the incentive to learn from other countries and to make sure that they are actually bringing things down to cost.” Jerusalem Demsas told WNYC. “A lot of it has to do with the fact that they're so underfunded, but just to give you some numbers, in New York, the Second Avenue subway cost $2.6 billion per mile, but in Copenhagen, they built a project at $323 million per mile. This is massive differences in costs that have a real impact on how much cost overruns actually happen.”
“When we talk about an infrastructure, it's more than roads and bridges, it's also talk about infrastructure for planning in our organizations to make sure that money, tax dollars follow need, as opposed to the way it really happens in the real world, is money follows money,” Robert Bullard, Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy at Texas Southern University, said on the same show.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.