Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Heads to the House: Details and Reactions From the Planning World

Planetizen gathered explainer posts and advocacy responses that continue to shine a light on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, approved by the U.S. Senate earlier this month.

8 minute read

August 17, 2021, 6:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell


Capitol Hill

Andriy Blokhin / Shutterstock

It's been a week since the U.S. Senate voted 69-30 to approve a massive infrastructure funding bill called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The bill, commonly referred to as the bipartisan infrastructure bill, is historic both for the rare bipartisan coalition that managed to get the bill through the Senate as well as for the promise to undo the status quo of sprawling, auto-oriented development when President Joe Biden proposed the American Jobs Plan as the prototype for the current bill.

The question of whether the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will live up to Biden's promise is still subject to negotiation in the House of Representatives, which will be tasked when it returns from recess with approving or rejecting the bipartisan infrastructure bill as part of a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill. While much of the focus of media coverage has been devoted to the $550 billion in new spending proposed by the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the latest iteration of the five-year reauthorization of the federal surface transportation bill (the INVEST in America Act) also hangs in the balance of the budget reconciliation process. When approved in the House, INVEST promised to implement "guardrails" to limit state departments of transportation from maintaining the status quo of highway building. Soon after the Senate approval, however, Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-Oregon), chair of the House Transportation Committee, indicated that those controls were unlikely to survive the budget reconciliation process.

Without those guardrails in place and continuing large spending programs for new roads and highways, the bipartisan infrastructure bill magically enables an unprecedented wave of funding for innovative infrastructure systems (not even multiple, massive federal spending programs implemented since the beginning of the pandemic in the United States in 2020 compare) while also maintaining the harmful status quo of transportation and land use planning. The question of whether the bill's innovative and unprecedented attention to social and environmental outcomes is worth the continued financing of the same old systems and ideas that created so many current problems is the big question posed to everyone of the organizations and individuals working in the built and natural environments in 2021.

With so much complexity swirling around the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—and with such high stakes—Planetizen has gathered the following list of articles relevant to planners and those working or worrying in related fields.


What Is in the New Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill? (Governing, August 6) – Ben Miller wrote before Senate adoption of the spending proposed by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. An infographic organizes the spending proposed by the bill in categories of 1) roads and bridges, 2) transit, 3) water, 4) power, 5) broadband, and 6 other.

What’s in the new infrastructure bill — and why it’s a big deal (Vox, August 10, 2021) – German Lopez details the political implications of the bill for the Biden administration, provides a detailed list of the new spending proposed in the bill, and previews the reconciliation process. The major spending listed in the article: 1) transportation projects, 2) reconnected communities, 3) high-speed internet, 4) electric vehicles, 5) clean drinking water, and 6) cleaning up the environment.

How does the Senate infrastructure bill invest in future resilience and growth? (Brookings, August 11, 2021) – The Current, the podcast of the Brookings Institution, last week held a discussion about how the bipartisan infrastructure bill can live up to its billing as a major sea change toward climate change mitigation and adaptation. The podcast is also available in transcript form on the page linked above.

More coverage from Planetizen about the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the days and weeks leading to the vote is also available at the "Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework" tag.

Taking a Position

Pro-Planning Infrastructure Bill Poised to Clear Senate Hurdle (American Planning Association, August 7, 2021) – The APA says the Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act would be good for planners. In particular, the article calls cites as its evidence the bill's increased share of funding devoted to communities and regions, the sections of the surface transportation reauthorization that would limit emissions-inducting construction (again, very much in doubt to make it through reconciliation). The APA also calls attention to new planning programs that would be funded by the bill:

  • "A new PROTECT program for resilience projects includes $1.4 billion in competitive grant funding with a dedicated $140 million set aside specifically for planning."
  • "A $1 billion Reconnecting Communities program will be created to tackle transportation equity issues and address past infrastructure that has segregated neighborhoods."
  • "A new complete streets program and a $5 billion Safe Streets and Roads for All safety planning program is created with $400 million per year set aside for local vision zero planning."

These are just a few of a much longer list.

Senate makes historic investment in yesterday’s transportation priorities (Transportation for America, August 10, 2021) – Write down Transportation for America own as firmly opposed to the compromises it took to get the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act through the Senate. Transportation for America Chair Beth Osborne released this statement after the Senate vote:

There are certainly welcome new additions, including a major recalibration of the nation’s approach to investing in and running passenger rail and a small program to tear down divisive old highways. But with this deal, the Senate is largely doubling down on a dinosaur of a federal transportation program that’s produced a massive repair backlog we are no closer to addressing, roads that are killing a historic number of vulnerable travelers each year, little opportunity to reach work or essential services if a family doesn’t have multiple cars, and the continued inability for local governments to have a say over what projects are built in their communities.

‘Very Flawed’ Infrastructure Bill Passes Senate, Imperfect Reconciliation Bill Looms (August 10, 2021) – Streetsblog USA's coverage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a little bit news and little bit commentary, with that commentary mostly echoing the statement of organizations like Transportation for America and NACTO. "The bipartisan package would inject a historic $39 billion into public transit agencies and create new $5-billion 'Safe Streets for All' program, but those ostensible wins would be immediately undermined by a more than $100 billion boost to highway spending with no requirements that those funds be used for maintenance on the U.S.’s crumbling roads and bridges," writes Kea Wilson.

A Good First Step for our Infrastructure (American Rivers, August 10, 2021) – Count American Rivers among the group to use the phrase "good first step" to praise the good while justifying the bad in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The Senate’s Proposed Transportation Bill Maintains What Makes American Transportation Inequitable, Unsustainable, and Unsafe (National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), May 24, 2021 – NACTO Executive Director Corinne Kisner and Chair Janette Sadik-Khan released a scathing statement after the Senate Committee of Environment and Public Works approved the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021 in May: "While this proposal contains several exciting provisions and new programs–from measuring and reducing transportation-sector carbon emissions to reconnecting communities divided by highways, and funding complete streets projects–at its core, the EPW bill largely maintains the status quo that made American transportation so inequitable, unsustainable, and unsafe to begin with."

Biden’s pro-car, pro-gasoline moves leave green allies fuming (Politico, August 15, 2021) – Advocates are calling out President Biden administration for undermining his administration's commitment to climate action by maintaining the status quo of car-centric spending in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Advocates point to Biden's recent call for OPEC to drill oil as more evidence of his administration's duplicitous stances on climate change.

Specific Interests

Philly’s busted roads and flooded homes are reason enough to pass Biden’s infrastructure bill (WHYY, August 11, 2021) – A persistent theme of media coverage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill is on display here: The intense need for funding to mitigate ongoing environmental and social catastrophes justifies the compromises included in the bill. In this article by Kenyatta Johnson, the poor conditions of roads and housing in Philadelphia provides the justification.

Congress’s Infrastructure Plan Could Be a Major Step toward Improved Intercity Rail—But Long-Term Commitment and Targeted Investments Are Necessary to Build Ridership (Urban Institute, August 10, 2021) – Yonah Freemark writes a detailed analysis of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for the Urban Institute, detailing the potential of the bill's $66 billion in funding for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)—the largest rail expenditure since the 2009 stimulus (but not the largest in history).

Rail advocates say infrastructure bill falls short (The Hill, August 11, 2021) – Zack Budryk surveys the nation's rail advocates for responses to the bill's approval. Yonah Freemark, senior research associate with the Urban Institute; Andy Kunz, president of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association; and House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio are cited in the article.

Hyperloop Included in Landmark Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill (Virgin, Hyperloop, August 10, 2021) – Mocked and criticized as a waste of time and money, the unproven technology of the Hyperloop nonetheless found its way into the bipartisan infrastructure bill. According to statement by Virgin Hyperloop, the bill makes Hyperloop programs eligible for federal funding.

The landmark Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allows hyperloop to compete for federal funding for US-based projects. This includes hyperloop eligibility for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) competitive grant program at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program at the Department of Energy.

The Infrastructure Bill Is a Trillion-Dollar Test for Environmental Justice (Bloomberg CityLab, August 11) - Brentin Mock and Hadriana Lowenkron detail an environmental justice framework called Justice40 included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Justice40 "commits the federal government to directing 40% of climate and clean energy investments into communities impacted by environmental injustice. The initiative aims at redressing legacy problems such as disproportionate pollution exposure and climate impact risks in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods," according to the article.

Electric Buses Are Poised to Get a U.S. Infrastructure Boost (Bloomberg, August 13, 2021) - Brian Eckhouse and Jennifer A. Dlouhy explain how the electric bus industry is poised to benefit from $2.5 billion in funding included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill to replace aging buses with zero-emission alternatives.

As Senate passes infrastructure bill, Democrats eye opportunity for more energy spending (Smart Cities Dive, August 16, 2021) – According to Jason Plautz, 180 Congressional Democrats have spoken out about the shrinking pot of money for "clean energy, residential electrification and commercial and residential energy efficiency" included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

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