Infrastructure bill: Ohio set to get more than $11B

At nearly $1 trillion, the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed this week by the Senate could bring more than $11 billion to Ohio to rebuild roads and bridges, modernize the electric grid and public water systems, and boost broadband access for rural and low-income families.

“I think for now we’ve been creative and funding our needs. We’ve done a really good job … But we do have a backlog, just like all other regions. This bill will help us address the backlog as well as chart a course for the future,” said Brian Martin, executive director of the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission.

Estimates from the White House and Ohio’s senators show the Buckeye state is in line to receive at least $9.2 billion for highways, $1.2 billion for public transportation, $483 million for bridge replacement, $140 million for an electric vehicle charging network and at least $100 million to expand internet coverage.

The nation’s, as well as Ohio’s, overall infrastructure was graded a C- by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Nationwide, 173,000 total miles of America’s highways and major roads and 45,000 bridges are rated in poor condition. In Ohio, 1,377 bridges and more than 4,925 miles of highway rate poorly, according to the organization’s report cards out earlier this year.

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The region’s poster child for flagging infrastructure spending has long been the Brent Spence Bridge, which carries Interstate 75 over the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Kentucky.

A provision in the bill provides another $12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program, which allows states to compete for funds to fix economically significant bridges like the Brent Spence Bridge, one that handles about 3% of the country’s GDP daily.

Dayton region’s manufacturers and distributors rely heavily on the span, though it’s situated miles to the south, said Chris Kershner, Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.

“We need to get the Brent Spence Bridge done. That is a central corridor for our logistics and manufacturing communities,” he said. “The longer that we wait to fix that bridge, the greater problem we’ll be getting.”

The logistics industry in the Dayton region alone had an economic impact of over $2.5 billion annually and supported over 20,000 jobs in 2015, according to a 2015 Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce study. With more logistics companies expanding near the Dayton International Airport over the past five years, “we can easily say it’s greater than those numbers now,” Kershner said.

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The White House is projecting that the infrastructure investments will add, on average, about 2 million jobs per year over the coming decade.

How much funding Ohio — or any state — will eventually receive is yet to be determined.

The infrastructure bill now goes to the House. Timing of a vote remains unclear as progressive Democrats seek a vote first on the Biden administration’s $3.5 trillion social policy budget. But on Friday, nine moderate Democrats on Friday said they would not vote for the budget resolution without passage of the infrastructure bill.

“It’s way too early to tell,” said Matt Bruning, Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman. “If and when additional money is sent to Ohio, we certainly stand ready to wisely spend it.”

The legislation’s $65 billion for broadband access would aim to improve internet services for rural areas, low-income families and tribal communities. Ohio is assured a $100 million minimum allocation, though most of the money in the program will be made available through additional grants.

“The pandemic certainly exposed us to those needs,” Martin said.

To improve the safety of the nation’s drinking water, the legislation calls for spending of $55.4 billion on water and wastewater infrastructure, which includes $15 billion to replace lead pipes and $10 billion to address water contamination from polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — chemicals that were used in the production of Teflon and in firefighting foam. The so-called “forever chemicals” have been detected in local wells, including ones that supply municipal drinking water to a majority of Montgomery County residents.

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Nearly $90 billion will fund public transportation initiatives to expand systems, improve accessibility for people with disabilities and provide dollars to state and local governments to buy zero-emission and low-emission buses. Ohio transit systems will receive roughly $1.3 billion.

Ohio is also in line to get $140 million to expand its electric vehicle charging network, building on local efforts already underway by 15 area governments, Martin said.

“We want to help facilitate that taking off even more,” he said. “It’s not just Tesla, every manufacturer has plans to be completely electric within five to 10 years, so the infrastructure can be built now and grow as that takes off.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act started with a group of 10 senators, including Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who was the bill’s lead Republican negotiator. The bill passed 69-30 in the Senate “demonstrates to the American people that we can get our act together on a bipartisan basis to get something done,” Portman said.

The bill contains provisions championed by both Ohio senators.

Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown’s Bridge Investment Act was included to provide the $12.5 billion to repair significant bridges like the Brent Spence Bridge. The act also calls for American-made iron, steel and other products be used on infrastructure projects.

“It’s not just Brent Spence that needs help — it’s the Western Hills Viaduct, it’s I-70 over the Scioto River, it’s US-30 in Richland County, it’s the Broad Street Bridge in Columbus, it’s the smaller bridges on rural farmlands that let farmers get goods to market,” Brown said.

The infrastructure bill also includes legislation co-authored by Portman that aims to reform the federal permitting process across government agencies on projects.

The spending package would be paid for by tapping $210 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief aid and $53 billion in unemployment insurance aid some states have halted, along with an array of other smaller pots of money, like petroleum reserve sales and spectrum auctions for 5G services.

Most of the infrastructure spending in the bill is spread out over five years, a welcome deviation from more recent federal packages, Martin said.

“As planners, we don’t like being funded only from year to year. We like to see what’s in front of us and plan accordingly,” he said. “That helps us forecast and find our highest needs.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Where will the money go?

Roads and bridges

U.S. : $110 billion

Ohio: $9.7 billion

Public transit

U.S.: $89 billion

Ohio: $1.29 billion (minimum allocation)

Broadband access

U.S.: $65 billion

Ohio: $100 million (minimum allocation)

Water and sewer

U.S.: $55.4 billion

Ohio: Undetermined

Airports

U.S. $25 billion

Ohio: $253 million

Electric vehicle charging infrastructure

U.S.: $7.5 billion

Ohio: $140 million (minimum allocation)

Sources: White House, offices of Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman

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