How the American Jobs Plan aims to shape 4 pillars of city infrastructure

President Joe Biden unveiled the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, in line with his administration’s “Build Back Better” agenda, on Wednesday at a carpenter’s training facility in Pittsburgh. 

Within the wide-reaching infrastructure and economic recovery package are sweeping investments in transportation, water, housing and digital infrastructure, repeating focuses on equity, sustainability and job creation throughout. Smart Cities Dive has rounded up the key ways those proposed infrastructure investments intend to shape the future of cities:

Transportation

Public transit: The package includes major spending to address the country’s “inadequate” public transit infrastructure, following a year of devastating blows to transit system revenues. The president is urging Congress to inject $85 billion into transit modernization, which would double the current level of transit federal funding. 

Investments in transit and infrastructure are the “gift that keeps on giving back,” said Art Guzzetti, vice president of policy and mobility at the American Public Transportation Association. “It’s not just the short-term economic benefits, you get a long-term economic benefit, perhaps, unlike other kinds of investments.” They’re also going to create a number of sustainability advantages, in addition to spurring a “green-collar economy,” he said. 

Electric vehicles: Biden’s proposal would establish grant and incentive programs for state and local governments to build out a national network of electric vehicle (EV) chargers, with the aim of having 500,000 chargers publicly available by 2030. The plan also looks to replace diesel-powered transit vehicles, electrify the bus fleet and make EVs more affordable for customers through tax incentives and rebates.

In an email, Alex Gruzen, CEO of EV wireless charging company WiTricity, said adding more charging infrastructure and further reducing people’s range anxiety around EVs “will bring the EV ownership experience from good to great.”

“It’s outstanding to see the U.S. commit to building modern infrastructure and eliminating the remaining barrier to broad adoption of EVs,” Gruzen added.

Passenger rail: Biden’s proposal calls on Congress to provide $80 billion to address Amtrak’s repair backlog and modernize its Northeast Corridor, while also improving other corridors and investing in new intercity service. Some in Congress have called for high-speed rail to be part of the conversation, as it could create jobs and radically alter the nation’s transportation system. In a statement, Rep. Seth Moulton, D-MA, a champion of high-speed rail, said the whole plan means a “chance to reimagine what is possible for transportation in America.”

Roadways and safety: The package will include $115 billion to upgrade the country’s bridges, highways and roadways. One in five miles of the country’s roads or highways are currently in poor condition, according to the White House, with traffic congestion costing more than $160 billion per year in delays. Road safety is poised to receive a $20 billion injection, in part via local Vision Zero investments and other safety efforts for cyclists and pedestrians. The safety investments come as the U.S. is poised to experience a record-high year for pedestrian deaths, partially fueled by reckless driving amid the pandemic.  

Addressing inequities: The plan earmarks an additional $20 billion to create a new program designed to reconnect neighborhoods “cut off by historic investments” and ensure that new investments increase racial equity and environmental justice. Some of those investments will include research into areas like “advanced pavements” that can recycle carbon dioxide.

Digital infrastructure

The American Jobs Plan also features a major investment in broadband internet. It prioritizes building broadband infrastructure in previously underserved parts of the country, including rural areas. The package places an emphasis on networks not owned by traditional internet service providers, but instead operated by local governments, nonprofits and cooperatives.

During a briefing with reporters, a senior administration official compared efforts to reach 100% high-speed broadband coverage in the United States to the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, which brought electricity to rural communities for the first time.

The digital divide has been strikingly highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic, the official said, as many have struggled to get online for school, work and other needs.

“Right now, you know, we’ve seen in this crisis families who lack access to Internet, lack access to the modern economy,” the senior administration official said. “Internet is the electricity of the 21st century.”

Legislators have already looked to alleviate the digital divide with federal dollars. House Democrats recently introduced the Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s America (LIFT America) Act, legislation that would invest almost $94 billion to expand access to broadband internet to underserved communities.

In a statement, House Energy and Commerce Chair Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ, said the American Jobs Plan “aligns” with that bill for its emphasis on broadband, among other issues.

Advocacy groups said the coronavirus pandemic put the onus onto local governments to solve the digital divide, and now is the time for the federal government to step up and provide a national strategy in a bid to help a more equitable recovery.

“Setting digital equity as a goal for the next four years would be a critical step towards reducing poverty, improving educational outcomes, advancing public health, boosting civic engagement, and more,” Francella Ochillo, executive director of Next Century Cities, wrote in a March letter to the administration.

Housing  

The plan outlines $213 billion to create and maintain over 2 million affordable homes. U.S. residents are grappling with a “severe shortage of affordable homes” and millions of renters could be at risk for eviction amid the pandemic.

The president is urging Congress to pass the bipartisan Neighborhood Homes Investment Act, with the package poised to offer $20 billion worth of tax credits to help build or rehab over 500,000 homes in the next five years. The plan also calls for new grant programs that would entice jurisdictions to remove barriers to affordable housing by eliminating exclusionary zoning laws and land-use policies like mandatory parking requirements. 

Public housing would receive $40 billion in investments designed to especially benefit people of color, women and people with disabilities, according to the White House. National Low Income Housing Coalition President and CEO Diane Yentel said on Twitter that $40 billion is not enoughhowever. The country’s public housing requires a $70 billion investment, Yentel said.

Water

Biden’s plan puts $111 billion on the table to upgrade infrastructure for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems. About 40% of that will go toward EPA grants, with a target of eliminating all lead pipes and service lines in the U.S. That goal comes days after more than 50,000 people in Flint, MI, signed up ahead of the deadline to receive part of a settlement related to the high-profile lead exposure crisis in the city.

The plan also calls for action to protect against new contaminants and certain “forever chemicals,” including $10 billion to monitor and remediate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in drinking water.

“Safe water is as important as safe roadways, and the numbers proposed in the President’s plan are a good starting point to increase federal investment in water infrastructure,” National Association of Clean Water Agencies Chief Advocacy Officer Nathan Gardner-Andrews said in a statement.

A collective $56 billion is earmarked for grants and loans meant, in part, to modernize wastewater and stormwater systems, which received grades of D+ and D, respectively on the American Society of Civil Engineers’ recent infrastructure report card.

Protection against costly environmental changes and disasters – be they wildfires, hurricanes, sea level rise, severe floods or Western droughts are another priority in Biden’s plan, in part to combat rising cleanup and damage expenses. The plan cites 22 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters that occurred in 2020.

Biden also is pitching $10 billion for the Civilian Climate Corps, envisioned to create jobs and advance conservation, community and environmental justice projects. The federal investment comes as some cities, including San Jose, CA, have already planned for their own resilience corps programs, in part to provide employment to residents hard hit by economic downturn during the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s a lot to like in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan,” said Michael Berkowitz, founding principal at Resilient Cities Catalyst. 

“In many ways, it feels like a Presidential Resilience Strategy, a national resilience plan modeled like those we’ve worked on in cities around the world.” Berkowitz said. “The important outcome here will be ensuring that these investments don’t become siloed or mono-purposed, because we need these investments to do double or triple duty, seeing resilience dividends for our economy, our collective health in the wake of COVID-19, and our future, which is imperiled on a daily basis by climate change.”