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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Congress sending billions to fix roads and bridges in Washington, Idaho through infrastructure bill

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

WASHINGTON – Hundreds of bridges and thousands of miles of highway in Washington and Idaho are in need of repair, but help is on the way after Congress passed a landmark infrastructure package Friday that will send billions to the Northwest.

After months of negotiations, the House passed the bill with enough support from Republicans to overcome a handful of Democratic defections, three months after the Senate passed the same legislation with broader bipartisan support. The package includes roughly $550 billion in new spending and tax cuts, along with continuing current spending, for a total of about $1.2 trillion for roads, rails, water pipes and much more.

While Democrats and Republicans have argued over what exactly counts as infrastructure, few issues get as much bipartisan support as fixing roads and bridges, and the bill devotes $110 billion to repair and replace them across the country. Washington should get $4.7 billion for highways and $605 million for bridges, according to White House estimates, and Idaho will receive $2 billion for highways and $225 million for bridges.

State legislatures will ultimately decide how to spend that money in each state. Washington has 416 bridges and more than 5,469 miles of highway in poor condition, according to the White House, while Idaho has 286 bridges and over 1,102 miles of highway in disrepair.

In Spokane County alone, the Washington State Department of Transportation has identified paving projects on 30 stretches of highway and 20 bridge projects that are in need of funding.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., crafted much of the bill as chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. In an interview Tuesday, she said investing in infrastructure will boost economic growth in the Inland Northwest and make the United States more competitive around the world.

“For us in the Pacific Northwest, we understand how roads and bridges and the grid and rail are all key components to our very trade-based economy,” Cantwell said.

“We’re a state on the Pacific in an era of growing Pacific economies,” she said. “People want to get product to and from the rest of the United States and Asia, and that means a lot of activity throughout the state of Washington, so having the best infrastructure capabilities is going to keep us competitive on those jobs.”

Sen. Mike Crapo was one of 19 GOP senators who voted for the bill, along with fellow Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch. In a statement after the Senate vote in August, Crapo drew a clear distinction between the infrastructure bill and the separate legislation Democrats are aiming to pass to expand access to preschool, make child care more affordable, lower prescription drug prices and more.

“The bipartisan legislation we passed today makes investments in traditional, hard infrastructure projects to help keep pace with Idaho’s rapid growth,” Crapo said, noting that “It includes billions of dollars for Idaho’s roads, highways and bridges.”

Most Republicans in the Senate and House opposed the bill, however, including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane. In a statement Friday, McMorris Rodgers linked the bipartisan legislation with the separate package of social programs Democrats are trying to pass, despite universal GOP opposition and differences within their own party.

“The Senate infrastructure bill and the massive tax and spending spree are not the will of the American people,” she said. “The Democrats’ radical agenda to spend a reckless amount of money will raise costs and make it even harder for people to build a better life.”

While the Democrats-only package known as the Build Back Better Act is more controversial, polls have shown the bipartisan infrastructure bill has broad public backing. A Morning Consult poll in September found 56% of Americans support the bill, while a Fox News poll in August put that figure at 62%.

Rep. Russ Fulcher, a Republican whose district includes North Idaho, also voted against the bill.

In addition to the road and bridge funds that will be distributed to each state, Washington and Idaho will also be able to compete for part of an additional $12.5 billion program for major bridges and $16 billion for “megaprojects” that have been hard to fund.

Many of those extra-large projects – including the I-5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver, Washington – straddle state lines and have been too costly to pay for through existing programs.

Other provisions in the infrastructure bill include $55 billion to replace lead pipes and supply clean water, $65 billion aiming to ensure every American has broadband internet access, and nearly $90 billion for public transit. It will also invest $17 billion in ports and waterways, $25 billion for the nation’s airports, $66 billion for passenger rail and billions more to modernize other parts of the nation’s ecovnomic foundation.

Most of the roughly $1.2 trillion authorized by the legislation is to be spent over the next five years.