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How the infrastructure deal aims to bolster our aging transportation network

Congress’ nonpartisan scorekeeper says the bipartisan infrastructure bill would add $256 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade. This comes as senators work to pass the plan in their chamber. Lisa Desjardins takes a detailed look at the bill, and speaks with Tom Smith of the American Society of Civil Engineers to learn more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congress' nonpartisan scorekeeper says the bipartisan infrastructure bill would add $256 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade.

    As senators work to pass the plan in their chamber, our Lisa Desjardins takes another detailed look at the bill.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    At the heart of this billion-dollar-plus bill, by far, the biggest piece is classic transportation, things that help us move.

    There is $453 billion total for roads, bridges and surface transportation. Another $66 billion is for railways, and there are billions for ferries. There is need. An estimated one in five roads in this country is in poor condition, and tens of thousands of bridges need repair.

    Anyone who has gone near an American city knows, for the most part, traffic is getting worse.

    To help us unpack all of this, we have Tom Smith from the American Society of Civil Engineers joining us.

    Tom, I got to say, this — all of these numbers this week, sometimes, it feels like funny money. Can you help us understand what nearly $500 billion means? And how much of our road and bridge problem will that solve?

  • Tom Smith:

    This is a problem that we have had, in failing to invest in our infrastructure for many, many decades.

    We do a report card on America's infrastructure. And for the last 20 years, we have been really failing to keep up. And we have been kicking the can further and further down the road. So the bill has continued to go up every year.

    So, when we last released our report card in 2021, just this year, and as we do it every four years, we showed just on the surface transportation side, over the next 10 years, really an investment gap of $1.2 trillion.

    That's out of a total of $2.6 trillion, when you look at all the 17 categories of infrastructure that ASCE evaluates with our report card on America's infrastructure.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So, then, $500 billion gets us part of the way there, but not all the way?

  • Tom Smith:

    Yes.

    And the important thing to think about is that that is money that's being spent over a five-year period. And when we look at our investment gap, and we say $1.2 trillion, that's over a 10-year period. And we're also looking at all elements. So, that requires federal investment, state, local and private investment.

    So, while it's not going to get us all the way there by any stretch, it is absolutely a step in the right direction, and it's visionary. It's a generational investment in our infrastructure. And I think it's going to put us on the right track.

    It will also, I think, spur additional investment at the state, local and private sector levels, and make our infrastructure more sustainable, more resilient, being able to look over the horizon, preparing for the future. We're certainly seeing more severe weather events than we had when we were first building this infrastructure 50, 60, 75, sometimes 100 or more years ago.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I want to talk about trains. And I also want to talk about ferries.

    We spoke to someone who works in the rail industry. He told us what he thinks this bill means for them.

  • JIM MATHEWS, Rail Passengers Association:

    It's going to make it possible to build the track that we need, to expand. It's going to make it possible to add service in a lot of cities all across the country, probably not the 160 that Amtrak would like to add, but it might come pretty close, depending on how we do it.

    What it won't do, however, is buy us, for example, a network of high-speed trains all across the country.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Now, for ferries, it's mostly all good news.

    We spoke with a woman in Alaska who runs an ice cream shop. And she depends on ferries. It's easier to get to where she is usually by water than by land.

    Here's what she said about the problem.

  • Karla Ray:

    With constant breakdowns and ferries taken offline and ferries aged out, a community is really affected by its quality of life and what makes people want to stay in a community. It's the lifeblood of a community if the residents are strong and healthy and happy. And the ferry is our transportation.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So, there's two other types of transportations that are getting huge influxes of cash over the next five years from this.

    But this is a bill that has red ink to it. Tom, I want to ask you about criticism from Republicans that this is not worth the debt. And some of them say it could do some harm in inflation.

  • Tom Smith:

    Well, I think this is absolutely a critical investment.

    And, as you just heard, these are investments that we need in this country, whether it's rail or transit or even the ferry service. This is a well-thought-out bill, as I have gone through it. Obviously, it's not perfect. It's — but it's a bipartisan effort. It's been really well-thought-out.

    When you look at the ferry service that was referenced there, I know there was at least a billion dollars was referenced for ferry service in rural communities. And while we talk about the cost of investing in our infrastructure, I think one of the things we will have to also consider is, what is the cost when we fail to invest, that time that we spend sitting in traffic, the inefficiencies in our system, repairing your car when you hit a pothole, added costs for goods and services, because we have failed to invest in our infrastructure?

    This all costs us money. And we did an economic study showing that we found it was $3, 300 per year per family. That's the hidden tax that we're paying today. So while we talk about, what does it cost to invest in our infrastructure and to modernize and maintain it, we have to ask ourselves, what's the cost if we fail to do that? It's far greater.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So, the bill is called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

    What do we know about how many jobs this really could create?

  • Tom Smith:

    Well, I think this will create enormous opportunity and jobs in many, many different sectors, certainly in the construction industry. There's a lot of jobs in the construction industry that will be created, but also those who finance, those who insure, those who design, those who operate and maintain our infrastructure.

    Then you also have the suppliers. So, this is going to have a major impact on manufacturing, which depends on the infrastructure that will now be better able to compete in a global marketplace. And then, of course, all those workers are supported by a work force. And they have pension plans and benefits. And, by the way, they also have money now that they can spend to put back into the economy.

    So, I think there are — it's far-reaching, the job creation, by a bill like this, and also what it does for the economy.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    These are issues that affect every single American.

    Tom Smith with the American Society of Civil Engineers, thank you for helping take us through it.

  • Tom Smith:

    My pleasure. Thank you.

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