Historic Infrastructure Bill Will Put Contractors to Work

Plenty of opportunities in the years ahead in the underground utilities sector thanks to the recent passage of $1.2 trillion in infrastructure investment

Historic Infrastructure Bill Will Put Contractors to Work

After months of negotiations, President Joe Biden officially signed an infrastructure bill into law last week that will add about $550 billion to current spending levels.

Although smaller than what Biden initially proposed back in March, the bill — $1.2 trillion in total with both the new and renewed spending — marks the largest infrastructure investment in decades and means there will be a lot of work for contractors in the coming years.

“America made a big step forward toward repairing and rebuilding our nation’s critical infrastructure systems,” says Doug Carlson, CEO of the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA). “Our members are eager to get to work. They’ll be the ones excavating trenches for new water and wastewater lines. They’ll be the ones replacing dangerous lead pipes to bring clean drinking water to communities across the nation. They’ll be building stormwater systems and new water treatment plants. They’ll also be laying new fiber-optic broadband cables, and helping to build modern ports, highways, railroads and airports. The American utility construction industry is a prime stakeholder in the reconstruction of our nation’s infrastructure systems. We are proud to build the foundations of each of these new projects improving every American community and our national economy.” 

Highways will receive a sizeable chunk of the $550 billion of new spending in the bill, sending $110 billion over the next five years to surface transportation projects.

As far as underground infrastructure, the new spending in the bill allocates $55 billion to water and wastewater systems. Lead service pipe replacement will be a priority for that portion of the bill with $15 billion allocated to it over the next five years.

Contractors can also benefit from the more than $65 billion in the bill set aside to install modern broadband infrastructure at speeds to handle today’s increased usage of internet and video services. The biggest obstacle of wider adoption of fiber-based broadband systems is the cost of constructing new lines.

The bill also contains resources to build new or repair obsolete electrical systems. $65 billion was allocated to national electric grid resiliency and $15 billion was targeted toward electric vehicle adoption, including $7.5 billion to build new electric vehicle charging stations, most of which require some subsurface construction. $21 billion was allocated to environmental remediation projects, such as improved stormwater drainage systems. And $1 billion will be directed toward replacement of corroding or obsolete municipal gas distribution pipes and hardware. 

The bill also includes billions of dollars for railroads, ports, airports, urban transit, and other hard infrastructure needs that may involve phases of underground utility construction. 

“Let’s remember what we’ve got done for the American people when we do come together. I truly believe that 50 years from now, historians are going to look back at this moment and say, that’s the moment America began to win the competition of the 21st century,” said Biden after signing the bill.

It is not as ambitious as Biden’s original $2.3 trillion proposal, but compromises were made during negotiations that pared back some plans, some of which is now being sought after in a separate piece of legislation that is focused on investing in “human infrastructure” like home health care and climate change initiatives.

Still, according to a New York Times article, Brookings Institution researchers estimate that the money from this bill will increase federal infrastructure spending as a share of the economy by half over the next five years, which would put it close to New Deal infrastructure provisions achieved under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“Implementing a historic bill like this will test all of our management facilities,” said Adie Tomer, who leads infrastructure work at Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program. The challenge includes “hiring federal, state and local officials to direct programming; finding enough skilled tradespeople to execute the work; and securing equipment and materials during a major supply chain crunch.”



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