States and Local Governments Underscore the Significance of IIJA, Identify Implementation Challenges

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on Wednesday, September 21, to listen to the states and local government representatives about the implementation of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

Chairman Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) noted in his introduction that the witnesses (listed below) represented a diverse group of leaders, including from a coastal state, a rural mountain state, and a desert city. In his opening statement, Chairman Carper seemed interested in hearing perspectives of states and local governments that are on the front line of IIJA implementation You can read their testimonies here.

  • Nicole Majeski, Secretary, Delaware Department of Transportation
  • Regina Romero, Mayor, City of Tucson
  • Jimmy Wriston, Secretary, West Virginia Department of Transportation
  • Jim Tymon, Executive Director, AASHTO

All the witnesses acknowledged the significance of IIJA and expressed optimism about the transformative change it is going to bring to their region. Now that IIJA has moved to implementation, the hearing touched upon some major themes:

Need for federal guidance

Implementation of IIJA will need significant federal direction. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s (R-WV) introduction highlighted the deviation of FHWA from IIJA by issuing policy directives, such as the December 2021 memorandum on prioritizing the use of BIL resources and the July 2022 GHG performance measures, suggesting that USDOT is imposing a one-size-fits-all approach on states. She said that this contradicted the flexibility built into IIJA for states and created confusion among grant recipients. AASHTO’s Tymon said that IIJA is a result of bipartisan negotiation, and the law recognizes that the needs of each state are different. AASHTO has been working with USDOT to encourage them to implement IIJA in a manner that is consistent with the law.

Wriston said that West Virginia has the sixth largest state-owned highway system in the country with about 94 percent of all its roads currently being maintained by the State DOT. He said that bridges in his state need attention and underscored the significance of formula funding for states. He expressed some skepticism on the IIJA’s expanded discretionary grants and said there is need for consistent guidance from FHWA. Tymon echoed that sentiment on discretionary grants, saying he hoped that federal agencies reduced bureaucratic red tape and simplified requirements for applicants.

Capito asked Wriston on impacts of the recent GHG emission reduction measures being imposed by the federal agencies. In response, Wriston said that the law is clear that the provision is not part of IIJA and highlighted the importance of flexibility ingrained in formula programs.

Requests to speed up project delivery and cut red tape

With billions of formula dollars already going to states and localities, members asked about how to improve project delivery. In reference to recent delay in a West Virginia highway project caused by issues identified by Fish and Wildlife Services on a certain stretch, Wriston said “bumblebees on Corridor H should not block the project.” He hoped for better partnership with federal agencies to get things moving.

While Tymon said he recognized the importance of the IIJA’s expanded Buy America requirements, he felt that those rules should be implemented while ensuring supply of materials and products needed for IIJA implementation. He also spoke about how the inflation and severe supply side disruption are driving up construction costs and have negative impacts, especially on small businesses.

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) asked Tucson’s Romero about her views of the I-10 expansion project in Arizona. She responded by saying that access to largest city in the state, Phoenix, is very important to Tucson, adding that the delay caused because of accidents impacts goods and services and disrupts supply chains.

Climate change impacts on states and cities  

Climate change was a major theme of questioning throughout the hearing, both to find ways to decarbonize transportation and to prepare for future weather-related events. Majeski spoke about the impacts of climate change in Delaware, a low-lying state experiencing frequent flooding with $1 billion worth of infrastructure vulnerable to damage. Delaware is seeing direct impacts of climate change some areas now experiencing tidal flooding on sunny days. She referenced the Low or No Emissions Grant Program, which will make 10 percent of their state’s mass transit bus fleet electric.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) questioned Romero on climate change issues in Arizona, particularly the need to redo staffing of first responders to deal with operations in extreme heat environments. Romero spoke about the intangible impacts of climate change in Arizona, including drought, greater number of days with 100 plus degree weather, and wildfires coming closer to the urban core.

Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) asked Romero about if and how IIJA funding has been helpful with resiliency efforts in Tucson, which is facing wildfire threats. Romero spoke about how wildfires in a city like Tucson, which is a center for logistics, rail, and interstates, impact national supply chains. She also said it is important to make infrastructure resilient to such impacts rather than spending on repair. In response to Sen. Padilla’s question about his proposal to extend the timeline for emergency relief projects, Tymon spoke about the importance of timeline extension to 4 years (from existing 2 years) given the complexity of post-disaster recovery.

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