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Getting There: A year later, bipartisan infrastructure law has sent $3.7 billion to Washington, $1.1 billion to Idaho

Traffic is lined up at the railroad crossing at Trent and Pines on Friday. A bipartisan infrastructure deal has provided $24.4 million so far to replace the at-grade crossing.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
Traffic is lined up at the railroad crossing at Trent and Pines on Friday. A bipartisan infrastructure deal has provided $24.4 million so far to replace the at-grade crossing. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

WASHINGTON – A year after Congress passed landmark bipartisan legislation to revamp the nation’s ailing infrastructure, the bill has delivered $1.1 billion for projects in Idaho and $3.7 billion in Washington state – including $51.5 million in Spokane County – according to figures from the White House.

President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law Nov. 15, 2021, marking the culmination of years of bipartisan efforts to address one of the rare priorities on which Republicans and Democrats largely agreed. In addition to reauthorizing existing federal programs, the bill provides about $550 billion in new spending over five years on roads, bridges, railways, seaports, airports, transit systems, the electric grid, broadband internet and more.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and authored parts of the bill, celebrated the anniversary in a statement Tuesday.

“This is a once-in-a-generation investment in infrastructure and it couldn’t have come at a more crucial time,” Cantwell said, adding that the federal funds have already launched nearly 500 projects in Washington. “These projects will repair crumbling roads and bridges, help buses run on time, and eliminate freight bottlenecks to lower shipping costs. Over the next five years, even more investments are headed our way to tackle mega projects, expand transit, and get freight moving faster through the state.”

In Spokane County, the single biggest chunk of funding has gone to a project to replace the existing at-grade railroad crossing at Pines Road in Spokane Valley with an underpass, while redesigning the nearby intersection of Pines Road and Trent Avenue with a roundabout, at a total estimated cost of $40 million. The bipartisan infrastructure law has so far provided about $24.4 million for the project, split between a grant worth about $21.7 million and roughly $2.7 million more in funds distributed based on a formula.

In a statement released when the grant was announced in August, Spokane Valley Mayor Pam Haley thanked Cantwell along with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, for their help securing funds for the project.

“This is a huge win for our city, region, and state,” Haley said. “Funding this project has been a top transportation priority for over five years and will greatly impact our community for the better.”

Cantwell and Murray, like all other Senate Democrats, voted for the bill along with 19 Republicans, including Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho.

McMorris Rodgers opposed the bill, like all House Republicans from Washington and Idaho, under pressure from former President Donald Trump and GOP leaders who argued it was inextricably linked to a broader spending bill Democrats later failed to pass on their own. But the Spokane Republican has worked to direct other federal money to the Pines Road project.

Other projects funded by the bill include $17.4 million for improvements at Spokane International Airport, $2.1 million to construct a roundabout at the intersection of Sprague Avenue and Barker Road in Spokane Valley and several other projects to repair roads and bridges in Spokane County.

While all but 13 House Republicans opposed the bill, it drew broader GOP support in the Senate, including from staunch conservatives like Crapo. Idaho’s senior senator defended his vote for the bill, pointing out that Republicans won key concessions from Democrats and had sought to pass an even larger infrastructure package during Trump’s presidency.

In the face of GOP opposition, the Biden administration has held the infrastructure law up as a major legislative victory. On a call with reporters Nov. 14, White House infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu channeled former House Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas.

“’Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a really good carpenter to build one,’” the former New Orleans mayor said, quoting Rayburn. “And it turns out that President Biden is really a great carpenter, and this bill has given us the ability to rebuild the country.”

On the same call with reporters, Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, said the infrastructure bill is part of Biden’s broader legislative agenda to rebuild the U.S. economy, along with a bipartisan bill Congress passed in July to boost semiconductor manufacturing and separate legislation Democrats passed in August to bolster low-carbon transportation and energy.

“This law is laying the foundation not only for an infrastructure decade, but a manufacturing decade in America by building a stronger backbone for American supply chains and American production,” Deese said. “And beyond that, this law is playing a crucial role in the long-term productive potential of our economy.”

In the first year of the infrastructure law’s implementation, the Biden administration has announced over $185 billion in funding for more than 6,900 projects across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. The bulk of the money is going to road and bridge repairs, including $2.2 billion in Washington and $886 million in Idaho, according to the White House.

Another focus of the legislation is improving access to broadband internet, both by increasing coverage and by helping low-income families pay for internet subscriptions through the Affordable Connectivity Program, which cuts monthly bills by up to $75 on tribal lands and up to $30 elsewhere. The White House estimates more than 1 million households in Washington and 260,000 households in Idaho qualify for that assistance.

The law has so far provided $161 million in Washington and $63 million in Idaho for clean drinking water, $110 million to Washington and $18 million to Idaho for airports, and $166 million to Washington and $14 million to Idaho for port and waterway projects. The remaining funds are expected to be allocated over the next four years.

Work to watch for

The northbound curb lane of Grand Boulevard between 21st and 22nd avenues will be closed Monday and Tuesday.

Northstar Enterprise work will close lanes off of Sprague Avenue in East Spokane on Tuesday. The northbound curb lane of Havana Street will be closed between Sprague Avenue and Broadway. The eastbound curb lane of Broadway between Alki and Havana streets will also be closed.

The Bloomsday Road Runners Club will be holding their annual Turkey Trot on Thursday morning in Manito Park. Park Drive from 21st to 25th avenues, 25th Avenue from Park Drive and Division Street to Tekoa Street, Tekoa Street from 25th Avenue to Manito Place, Manito Place from Tekoa Street to Manito Boulevard and Manito Boulevard from Manito Place to 25th Avenue will be closed from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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