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Ferro: Utahns should benefit from Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

By David Ferro - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Jan 26, 2022

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David Ferro

This past November, the U.S. House and Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, which allocated $550 billion in new spending for infrastructure. Utah stands to benefit in many ways from this bill, including for projects that support pragmatic and sustainable practices. This bill represents an investment in our children, while maintaining the investments of our past, and now is the time to consider how Utah will use this investment.

The original bill’s price tag of $2.6 trillion proved too difficult for many to swallow in Congress, so a bipartisan committee, including Sen. Mitt Romney, winnowed it down by eliminating many things we might agree deserve attention. Research and development, manufacturing, housing, schools, community care and clean energy tax credits all got the ax.

However, power, transportation, water and internet infrastructure benefited greatly. Many people, like Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell, specifically thanked Romney for his leadership. Gov. Spencer Cox and others happily celebrated water quality and drought- and fire-mitigation elements. Business and community leaders alike recognized the bill as a wise investment for the economy and jobs in both rural and urban Utah without overly enlarging our deficit or inflation.

The act has money flow through federal agencies to state and local entities and allows for competitive allocations and issuances for tax-exempt bonds. It will take time to put plans together. Resurfacing roads might move quickly, while projects requiring newer technology and systematic change will necessitate knowledge and skill acquisition. A considerable investment, on a dollar basis, the amount outweighs the New Deal, although, as a percentage of gross domestic product, it doesn’t reach the spending of the late 1970s.

In last week’s 2022 State of the State, Gov. Cox put air and water quality on the same level as housing, transportation and other needs, and several times noted quality of life for Utah’s residents. Referencing local sourcing of materials and technology, he said, “We can no longer be dependent on foreign countries, some of whom actively seek to do us harm, to be the primary suppliers of our country’s clean-energy future.”

Over half the money, $283 billion, addresses transportation (a critical component of air quality) and more than $100 billion will cover basic repairs of roads and bridges. Electrical charging of cars and buses received $15 billion. By expanding electrical charging infrastructure across the state, Utahns can roam our beautiful state in electric vehicles, confident they can charge at will. In addition, a $6.4 billion investment in energy-efficient transportation through both the Carbon Reduction Program of the Federal Aid Highway Program and a competitive grant program for Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient and Cost-saving Transportation, or PROTECT — and my hat is off for whomever came up with that acronym — through the Highway Trust Fund promise added benefits to Utahns.

As an example of a potential use of funding, the automotive department of Weber State University’s College of Engineering, Applied Science & Technology, working with Utah Clean Energy, will submit a request for funds for workforce development related to alternative-fuel vehicles.

Another $100 billion also will go to public transportation, airports, passenger and freight railways. The new Ogden Express, or OGX, bus rapid transit project linking downtown to Weber State and McKay-Dee Hospital should benefit from this. Meanwhile, hopefully going a long way to solving the supply chain crisis we’re all living through, over $17 billion will address gridlock at our ports.

As apparent by the number of people now working from home, the importance of $65 billion for broadband speeds for all Americans as a component of infrastructure becomes obviously paramount. This part of the bill will benefit rural and urban communities that often lag behind (pun intended) other communities in internet speeds and could use these upgrades to benefit those seeking work while keeping family close.

The Department of Energy needs to manage $73 billion for building new transmission lines — thousands of miles of them. Investments also include smart grids, nuclear reactors, carbon capture and renewable energy.

Much smaller amounts, but likely getting a good return on investment, go to energy efficiency programs. For example, $3.5 billion goes for weatherization assistance for low-income families.

With Utah’s growing population and the impact that growth has on water, roads, power, air quality and the like, the Infrastructure and Jobs Act has the potential to positively impact Utah and position it for smarter growth. It promises to not only improve the quality of life in the state but also bring in added revenue. We can encourage our community leaders to take advantage.

Dr. David Ferro is dean of the College of Engineering, Applied Science & Technology at Weber State University. Twitter: DavidFerro9

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