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November 09, 2021

Massive infrastructure bill cleared by House includes nearly $8 billion for Maryland

Credit: The Frederick News-Post, Natalie Drum

WASHINGTON — An unprecedented infrastructure bill that won final passage by the House late Friday includes nearly $8 billion for highway, public transportation, ports and broadband projects throughout Maryland.

The $1.2 trillion measure, now awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature, cleared the House on a bipartisan 228-206 vote. The bill passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote in August.

The massive spending legislation provides nationwide funding for critical infrastructure projects such as bridges, highway and airport construction, water pollution control, groundwater storage, broadband and public transportation, including improvements to Amtrak.

The infrastructure bill is the first half of Biden’s signature legislative agenda. The second part, the so-called “Build Back Better” bill, would provide nearly $2 trillion in investments in new social programs, but its final scope remains the subject of intense negotiations among moderate and progressive Democrats in the House and Senate.

Biden is expected to visit the Port of Baltimore on Wednesday to discuss how the infrastructure bill will improve the country’s ports and strengthen supply chains across America, according to the White House.

The infrastructure bill will provide funding for state priorities, including another round of support to build out high-speed internet and broadband access. The legislation also is expected to generate “huge numbers” in job creation for Maryland, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) told Capital News Service.

“The job estimates that I’ve seen are in the hundreds of thousands,” he added.

According to a a variety of sources, including the White House and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D), funds for Maryland are expected to include:

  • $4.1 billion for federal-aid highway projects over five years
  • $1.7 billion for revitalizing almost a quarter of aging public transportation vehicles, and over $150 million to the Washington Metro Transit Authority to improve safety and make repairs over eight years.
  • $844 million for improving water infrastructure and ensuring clean drinking water in communities
  • $238 million to continue the restoration of Chesapeake Bay over five years
  • $409 million for bridge replacement and repairs over five years
  • $200 million for expanding broadband coverage, including providing internet access to at least 148,000 Marylanders who currently do not have such service
  • $158 million for airport infrastructure improvements development over five years.
  • $63 million for supporting the expansion of an electric vehicle charging network over five years
  • $15.9 million for protecting Marylanders against cyberattacks
  • $7.9 million for protecting against wildfires over five years, and for preparing infrastructure for the impact of extreme weather events

Maryland will also benefit from the bill’s $3.5 billion national investment in housing weatherization programs, which would cut energy costs for low-income households.

Improvements to Maryland’s infrastructure have been long overdue, supporters have said. In 2020, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state a C grade, based on a 12-category Infrastructure Report Card, a slight bump from the C- Maryland received in 2011.

With 273 bridges and over 2,201 miles of highway in poor shape, according to the White House. Maryland’s House delegation was nearly unanimous in backing the “once-in-a-generation investment,” as Biden characterized the bill Saturday after its passage.

All Maryland House Democrats voted in support of the bill, but Rep. Andy Harris, the sole Republican in the delegation, opposed the measure.

“Yesterday’s infrastructure bill added hundreds of billions of dollars to the federal debt,” Harris tweeted on Saturday. “We have to stop spending our children and grandchildren’s money.”

Both Maryland Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Van Hollen supported the legislation.

The infrastructure bill also includes an amendment to make an agency supporting the growth of minority business enterprises permanent, which was in part sponsored by Cardin, the chairman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

Maryland’s nearly $8 billion share of the infrastructure bill is just the start, Van Hollen said.

“That’s also a minimum … that’s what Maryland would get when you sort of apply the federal formulas,” he said. “But on top of the formulas, Maryland will be eligible to compete for lots more.”

The Bridge Investment Act, a competitive grant program within the bill, allows states to apply for $12.5 billion in financial assistance over five years to improve the safety, reliability and condition of their bridges, as well as nearly $16 billion in national funding for major projects.

“This transformative legislation will modernize America’s infrastructure, expand broadband access, create jobs for Marylanders, accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles to address the climate crisis, support manufacturing jobs, and bolster transportation safety programs,” Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Baltimore) said in a statement.

Ahead of the infrastructure bill’s passage, House progressives were negotiating over commitments to include certain programs in the Build Back Better Act. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) told reporters in Glasgow, Scotland, on Tuesday that she has set a vote on the latter bill for next week.

Hoyer on Friday said in a statement: “I am confident that the House will advance this transformational legislation soon and make fully paid-for, generational investments in children, families, communities, and addressing the climate crisis.”

Biden’s Build Back Better Act framework, among other things, expands Medicare coverage for hearing benefits, promotes clean energy technology and provides free, universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“For seven years, Maryland has been leading on rebuilding crumbling infrastructure and advancing vital investments for the future like cyber security, broadband, and resiliency,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said in a statement Saturday.

Also on Saturday, Rep. David Trone (D-Gaithersburg) invited Biden to sign the newly-passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in Cumberland.

Cumberland is at the eastern end of the National Road, the main route west for settlers in the early 19th century. Built between 1811 and 1837, the road — much of it is U.S. Route 40 — is America’s first federally funded, designed and constructed infrastructure project.

In a letter to the president, Trone said the Maryland city would be “the perfect backdrop for the signing … because of its unparalleled importance in the history of our nation, but also because this legislation will be transformational for the city, county, and region.”

Since 2017, three bridges, including the Washington Street bridge, linking Washington Street and the West Side community to Cumberland’s city center “have been inoperable due to a lack of infrastructure investment,” Trone said.

“Decades of under-investment in our crumbling infrastructure has taken a toll on every state including Maryland,” Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Timonium) said in a statement. “This bill is an opportunity to literally build back from the COVID-19 crisis better than ever. Funding for Maryland’s roads, bridges, waterways and broadband will not only create good-paying jobs, but will keep products and people on the move.”