When President Biden signed the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill Monday, he opened the door for Massachusetts to receive more than $9 billion in federal money — with billions more in additional grant funding available — to repair roads and bridges, improve public transportation, address climate change, and make other investments, according to the White House and members of the state’s congressional delegation.
Massachusetts transportation advocates are drawing up their priorities, including rebuilding the Massachusetts Turnpike at ground level in Allston, connecting the MBTA’s Red Line and the Blue Line, and electrifying bus fleets and the commuter rail system.
Transformational projects like those should be at the top of the state’s list, said Rick Dimino, president of the A Better City business group. And it’s important that Massachusetts officials spend money now to get projects designed, permitted, and ready to be built with the money as soon as possible, he said.
“It’s like T-ball. The ball is sitting there and all we need to do is hit it,” he said. “The worst thing Massachusetts could do is watch the parade go by and not be well positioned to take advantage.”
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was approved by the House on Nov. 5, is the largest investment in traditional infrastructure in decades.
The White House said that the law’s funding will improve Massachusetts residents’ lives by cutting down on commuting time, removing lead from drinking water, and helping low-income families afford reliable, high-speed Internet service. Much of the money will be allocated through existing federal transportation funding formulas, while other large pools of money will be available through grants.
The state has 472 bridges and more than 1,194 miles of highway in poor condition, according to a White House fact sheet. The poor condition of roads costs each driver about $620 a year in vehicle repairs and has contributed to commuting times that have increased by about 11 percent since 2011.
The major funding allotments for Massachusetts include the following.
- $4.2 billion for improving highways and $1.1 billion to replace and repair bridges. Massachusetts officials can also compete to get additional funding through the $12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program. This will be the largest investment in bridge infrastructure since the Interstate Highway System was constructed in the 1950s.
- $2.5 billion to improve public transportation throughout the state. Nearly a quarter of buses and other public transit vehicles in the state are beyond their useful life, so funding would increase transit options, the White House said.
- $1.1 billion to increase access to clean drinking water in communities across Massachusetts by replacing lead pipes and making other improvements. Up to 10 million households in the nation don’t have safe drinking water.
- Approximately $244 million for airport infrastructure, with exact funding levels dependent on annual passenger and cargo data.
- At least $100 million to help provide high-speed Internet coverage, including access to broadband for at least 137,000 state residents who lack it. About 1.34 million low-income people in Massachusetts will be eligible for up to $30 a month to pay for Internet access in an extension of a program expiring at the end of the year that provides up to $50 a month.
- $63 million to increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations across the state. Massachusetts officials also can apply for some of $2.5 billion in grants for expanding the network of charging stations.
- $5.8 million to protect against wildfires and an undetermined portion of a $3.5 billion national pool of money to improve weatherization. The money is designed to prepare for the effects of climate change and reduce energy costs.
- $15.7 million to protect against cyberattacks.
Representative Bill Keating, a Democrat from Bourne, said that the law’s funding is essential because climate change will have a significant impact on his district, which includes Cape Cod and other coastal areas south of Boston. Money will be used to make coastal locations more resilient in the face of more intense storms and replace bridges over the Cape Cod Canal. He added that there also are measures to improve national marine sanctuaries and to boost the fishing industry.
“There’s so much in it that’s going to be, I think, disproportionately helpful for a district that deals with environmental impacts, that has critical infrastructure needs — nothing [is] more critical than the gateway to a quarter of a million people that live there year round,” Keating said of the Cape bridges.
Bridge funding also is a priority for Representative Lori Trahan, a Democrat from Westford, as more than 10 percent of the state’s structurally deficient bridges are in her district, which includes Lowell and Lawrence. The infrastructure law also includes $1.35 billion to prevent sewage overflows, which will benefit communities along the Merrimack River.
Most of the transportation-related funding is for roads and bridges, following a longstanding national prioritization of car travel over mass transit to the dismay of many transit advocates. But states will have flexibility in how they use those funds, said Stacy Thompson, executive director of LivableStreets Alliance. She hopes Massachusetts opts for low-cost, high-impact infrastructure projects like bus lanes and improved crosswalks.
“Things like protected bike infrastructure, pedestrian crossings, bus rapid transit are all things you build on roads,” she said. “They don’t cost as much as building a highway or a bridge, and they move more people more efficiently.”
But members of Massachusetts’ Congressional delegation said their work is far from over, and underscored the need to pass Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which would spend $1.75 trillion over 10 years to improve the social safety net and further address climate change.
“This is just the start of what Congress can do to help working families by fixing our crumbling infrastructure and boosting our economic recovery,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren. “Now, Congress must act quickly to pass the Build Back Better Act to invest in universal child care, take a big whack at the fight against climate change, and ensure corporations stop cheating the system.”
Neya Thanikachalam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Taylor Dolven can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @taydolven.