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    Monday, May 27, 2024

    Tangible and local results of historic infrastructure bill

    Two years ago this month President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. Getting the $1.2 trillion plan through Congress required bipartisan support. The need for major federal investment in the nation’s transportation, utility, energy and communication systems had long been recognized but, unlike his predecessor, Biden found the political path to get it done.

    In the two years since, the ideal of rebuilding the nation’s aging infrastructure, long supported on these editorial pages, has moved from the abstract to the tangible. It is being felt, and seen, right here in southeastern Connecticut and across the country.

    The Biden Administration announced recently that nearly $400 billion in infrastructure funding has been committed to more than 40,000 projects across 4,500 communities in all 50 states, Washington D.C, U.S. territories, and tribes.

    This investment is not only building a foundation for economic growth by bringing more of the nation’s infrastructure into the 21st century, but it will save lives by making transportation systems safer. It will also make Americans healthier by improving water systems and attacking pollution. It is an example of what Democrats and Republicans can achieve when willing to set aside, on vital issues, today’s hyper-partisan politics.

    Locally the region is watching the reconstruction of Interstate 95 as it passes through East Lyme, a $148 million project made possible with an 80% match from the infrastructure bill. The project will realign entrance and exit ramps to give drivers more time to merge or exit the stretch of highway. The result will be increased safety for the area that has seen a high level of accidents, including fatalities. It will also ease congestion.

    The infrastructure bill is making possible the completion of restoration work on the Gold Star Bridge, which carries Interstate 95 traffic across the Thames River and connects Groton and New London. The Department of Transportation awarded $158 million to rehabilitate the northbound section.

    In New London, the first phase of work will soon begin to replace lead service lines that now bring water to about 3,300 homes and businesses in the densely developed city. The longer the lines remain in place, the increased risk of corrosion that could expose residents to the toxic metal. The service lines will be replaced with copper versions.

    The project is expected to cost $36 million when fully completed, an investment that would be beyond the city’s means if not for the federal aid which, allocated through the state, will cover about 80% of project costs. Director of Public Utilities Joe Lanzafame and the administration of Mayor Michael Passero deserve credit for moving quickly to tap the competitive infrastructure funding source.

    In another local project, Amtrak was awarded $827 million to replace the 116-year-old Connecticut River Bridge between Old Saybrook and Old Lyme.

    All told, the Biden administration has announced about $4 billion in infrastructure funding for Connecticut for more than 114 projects. These awards include $25 million for Bradley International Airport for terminal expansion and improved baggage handling, among other upgrades. A modern airport is critical for Connecticut to remain business competitive.

    The level of investment provided by the infrastructure legislation is a contributing factor in keeping the nation out of the recession many economists had predicted. The economy has added nearly 14 million jobs since Biden took office and the unemployment rate has remained low at below 4%. That good news has been overshadowed by the inflationary pressures and high interest rates that are making life difficult for many Americans, but dreaded stagflation — a stalled economy and steep inflation — has been avoided. The big infrastructure investment played a role.

    Republicans, in control of the House, have periodically proposed cuts to the planned infrastructure investments. While Washington does indeed need to get control of spending, curtailing the infrastructure funding would prove counterproductive and economically damaging. What is needed is reforms to the Social Security and Medicare entitlement programs, but neither party appears to have the political courage to take that on. That will prove to be a bipartisan achievement more difficult than the infrastructure legislation.

    As the nation enters the 2024 election year, voters need to know whether candidates support the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in 2021 and are committed to seeing the projects it is underwriting through to their conclusions. Beware of those candidates who promise “savings” by undermining projects benefiting this community and communities across the country.

    The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.