The Business Journals: U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans: New infrastructure law is once-in-lifetime opportunity if we do it well

By Dwight Evans

The new infrastructure law President Biden signed on Nov. 15 is a generational, pro-growth investment in the future of the United States, with a focus on supporting a long-term recovery of the American economy and addressing inequities in transportation, environmental justice, broadband, clean water access, and more.

I was proud to vote for this new law, which presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our citizens, our local businesses, and our economy, if we do it well.

I believe a society can be judged on the support it provides to its residents most in need, which is why this law centers America’s economic recovery on expanding economic opportunities for low-income communities and communities of color, creating good-paying jobs that will expand and repair outdated infrastructure, increasing federal support for minority-owned businesses, and breaking down infrastructural barriers that continue to segregate low-income communities from economic opportunity.

With local, state and federal governments working together, along with private sector and non-profit partners, we must ensure that implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is well executed over the coming years. It includes several types of funding for Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, such as:

  • An estimated $11.3 billion to Pennsylvania for federal highway funding, and an estimated $1.6 billion to replace and repair our state’s bridges.
  • An extra $120 million per year over the next half-decade to SEPTA, and nearly $2.3 billion to the Delaware Valley for public transit improvements.
  • Nearly $1.4 billion to Pennsylvania to improve the state’s water infrastructure, with the goal of ensuring safe drinking water for all; and improve testing for lead at schools and child-care centers.

In addition, I co-led the $1 billion Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program that’s part of this new law. It will provide grants to remove, reconstruct, and retrofit existing highways that segregate communities of color. I worked with my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus to prioritize the program’s inclusion in the infrastructure law, and conducted a whistle-stop tour throughout the Mid-Atlantic to highlight the impact of dividing low-income communities.

I also voted for the House version of the Build Back Better Act, which includes another $4 billion for similar transportation equity programs that would benefit these communities across the country.

In Philadelphia alone, various neighborhoods continue to feel the burden of highways which unfairly divide them and separate them from opportunities. These include:

  • Chinatown (I-676, the Vine Street Expressway),
  • Nicetown (U.S. 1, the Roosevelt Boulevard Expressway) and
  • the Delaware River Waterfront (I-95).

The Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program will make these Philadelphia communities eligible to apply for grant money to reform the transportation infrastructure that has negatively impacted them for generations.

When I say this new law presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if we do it well, that is the opposite of “mission accomplished.” Now comes the work of implementation and oversight. I look forward to using my experience to help Philadelphia and Pennsylvania receive our fair share of funding. And both Congress and the White House infrastructure coordinator, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, will be watching to make sure this new funding is well-spent.

To ensure this new law is well-implemented and that communities of color are included in opportunities to receive funding, we need a coordinated response from local and state officials, community organizations, non-profit groups and the private sector. Let us ensure that this generational investment is properly leveraged to lift up disadvantaged communities and spur economic opportunity in an unparalleled way.

In addition, this new law is just one part of President Biden’s ambitious, pro-growth agenda for America that has already resulted in the creation of a record 6.4 million jobs in his first year. The American Rescue Plan has provided economic relief in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, while the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act focuses on long-term economic recovery.

President Biden’s third major piece of legislation, the Build Back Better Act, will follow this with a transformational investment in American society. Several initiatives in Build Back Better would help businesses, such as making child care much more affordable for many workers and those who want to work. I am hopeful about being able to provide a positive update on that later this year.