ASCE celebrates the two-year anniversary of the historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), or Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). The BIL is the largest-ever investment in our nation’s built environment, providing $1.2 trillion towards all 17 categories of infrastructure outlined in ASCE’s 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. The IIJA represents a significant down payment on the $2.6 trillion infrastructure investment gap over a 10-year period identified in ASCE’s Failure to Act economic study.
Since its passage, the IIJA has announced $400 billion in funding for more than 40,000 projects across the country, including nearly 8,000 bridge projects, 25 passenger rail projects, 190 airport terminal projects, 445 port and waterway projects, 1,200 drinking and wastewater projects, and over 60 projects dedicated to improving the resilience and reliability of the energy grid. Major projects like the Brent Spence Bridge connecting Ohio and Kentucky and the Hudson River Tunnel in New York have received funding to begin construction after years of being put on the backburner.
Despite these significant advancements to improving our nation’s infrastructure, public polling indicates that a large percentage of Americans are still not aware of the true scope of the investments made under the IIJA. To raise awareness and share successes, ASCE has partnered with the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) and American Public Works Association (APWA) to create the Engineering & Public Works Roadshow. The Roadshow is an opportunity to highlight projects across the country that demonstrate what smart investments look like and how they benefit local communities, the economy and the environment.
Since the launch of the Roadshow, we have hosted events at projects in Richmond, VA; the Port of Long Beach, CA; and Dallas, TX. These are forward looking projects that exemplify how engineers are working with policymakers to advance our shared goals to prioritize equity and increase resilience and sustainability in the face of climate change.
Increasingly severe storms shine a light on the challenges our built environment is facing. Many of our systems were built a generation or more ago. Stormwater systems now must regularly accommodate record rainfalls that they weren’t built to withstand. Dams built a century ago are now protecting growing downstream communities. Our transit and aviation infrastructure – and the people that operate these systems – are operating under extreme temperatures.
As a historic amount of IIJA dollars are spent on resilience, ASCE stresses that the most reliable way to build more resiliently is the widespread adoption and enforcement of up to date, modern building codes. In May, ASCE made the most significant update to the flood load chapter in the Society’s most widely-used standard today, ASCE/SEI 7-22 Minimum Design Loads and Associated Criteria for Buildings and Other Structures. The ASCE 7 national loading standard is an integral part of building codes in the United States and around the globe. The update to the flood load chapter, when enforced, will protect homes and buildings against 500-year flood events, a substantial step forward from the 100-year flood hazard protections referenced in the previous version.
ASCE has developed an easy-to-understand toolkit on the standards and technical content that are readily available to build infrastructure systems that can withstand natural hazards, including earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and tornados.
While ASCE applauds Congress for passing both the PRECIP Act and the FLOODS Act last year, both of which are critical to updating the nation’s decades old precipitation data, those programs need to not only be funded, but the research at NOAA needs to be accelerated so that data can begin to drive how we are designing for these larger rain events.
Additionally, the passage of the IIJA highlights the gap that exists in the nation’s engineering and construction workforce. It is estimated that the IIJA has created an additional 82,000 engineering and design jobs, however, we do not currently have the pipeline of engineers for this influx of design and construction work.
Recently, ASCE partnered with the National Governors Association to develop best practices for the public and private sector to address the engineering shortfall and next February we will be releasing a new IMAX film nationwide, Cities of the Future, to excite the next generation of civil engineers and build out the pipeline of STEM professionals, but we cannot do this along and we need a federal partner.
The IIJA, is starting to address this gap with new workforce programs and flexibility within existing programs, however developing additive workforce programs will be key, as we have found that simply providing increased flexibility for workforce programs within existing infrastructure program dollars has not worked. When workforce programs are competing with dollars that can be directed into design and construction, workforce programs lose out.
The IIJA represents a historic investment, but there is still a lot more to be done for it to reach its full potential. As we look to the year ahead, ASCE will be updating its Failure to Act economic study, which will be the first analysis of the infrastructure investment gap since the passage of the IIJA and helps the public understand the underlying impacts to their wallets if we do not invest. Following that study, in early 2025 ASCE will release the latest Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, where we can begin to see what the impacts of the IIJA have been on current conditions.
As we celebrate these investments in the nation’s infrastructure, ASCE stands ready to continue to work with policymakers to ensure we deploy IIJA effectively and efficiently over the upcoming years.