Federal infrastructure bill proposed by President Biden is needed now more than ever

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Bob Coble
·3 min read
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If there is anything in Washington that might — and I emphasize might — generate bipartisan support, it will be an infrastructure bill. While Congress and the president will undoubtedly debate the cost of such a bill, very few would argue that America’s infrastructure doesn’t need significant upgrading and modernizing.

President Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have already met with a bipartisan group of senators to discuss the critical need for investing in modern and sustainable American infrastructure. And while this examination includes traditional transportation modes like roads, airports, railroads, and ports, it also includes support for water and sewer systems, power grids, renewable energy, and universal broadband networks.

One priority that we have heard from both the president and the secretary is the importance of improving and expanding our passenger rail system. They have identified the need to build a more robust high-speed rail service throughout the country to support our global competitiveness as other countries like China outpace the U.S. when it comes to investing in high-speed rail.

Investing in America’s aging infrastructure across urban and rural areas would advance our economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, create millions of good-paying jobs, and promote our ability to compete and succeed in the global economy.

We do not have to look too far to see the issues facing Americans due to inadequate or antiquated infrastructure. The recent breakdown of the power grid in Texas during the recent winter storms shows that more should be done to ensure basic systems can withstand these events. Millions were without power for days, water systems failed, and hospitals struggled to remain open because of the conditions.

Here at home, South Carolinians are no stranger to infrastructure challenges. Following the floods of October 2015, vital components suffered significant damage, including the Columbia Canal, which has yet to be repaired because of the costs. And, as a result of the issues in Texas, Gov. Henry McMaster tasked officials to review the state’s power grid to evaluate its ability to withstand such storms.

South Carolina Congressman and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn has also been a strong advocate for rural broadband investment. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the apparent need to invest in universal broadband for education and our economy.

While the details of an infrastructure bill have not been finalized, President Biden campaigned on a $2 trillion investment plan for infrastructure, and Democratic Senators have discussed a $3 trillion investment. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has stated that infrastructure funding plans will not be finalized until the stimulus package is passed.

At the same time legislation is being discussed, House members are considering restoring the ability for legislators to “earmark” funding for projects. While there will likely be limits on the extent of these earmarks, they have historically been a funding mechanism for infrastructure projects.

While it is still unclear what the legislation will include, now is the time for us to work with local, state, and federal officials to engage with our Congressional delegation to demonstrate the need for infrastructure projects that are needed and which will significantly impact our communities and the economy.

Coble is a Richland County Council member and a former mayor of Columbia.