The U.S. Senate notched a major win this week when it passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure agreement. This package represents one of the largest (and long overdue) investments in our nation’s aging roads, bridges, ports, and other core infrastructure, which all Utahns rely on. It also provides the largest investment in clean energy, climate resilience and carbon capture technologies in U.S. history.
Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle deserve credit for getting this important legislation across the goal line in the Senate, with a leading role being played by Utah’s Sen. Mitt Romney.
Romney helped to author the bill’s framework, which earned immediate support from the right and left. He was instrumental in getting fellow Republicans to the negotiating table, who kept spending in check and focused investment where it matters most.
It is high time to address our nation’s infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ latest report card gave U.S. infrastructure a barely passing “C-” grade. Their report points out that bringing these physical assets into good repair and expanding them to keep up with population growth, will require “increased, long-term, consistent investment.”
The bipartisan infrastructure bill in Congress, which will now move to the House of Representatives, is a good step. The bill authorizes $550 billion of new spending, 20% ($110 billion) of which will go to build and repair our roads and bridges. Another $66 billion and $65 billion, respectively, will be directed to improve U.S. rail systems and deploy broadband to rural and low-income communities. There is also investment in water systems ($50 billion) in ports and airports ($42 billion) and public transit ($39 billion).
These investments will benefit virtually every part of society and every sector of our economy. After all, whether a person commutes to work, operates a business or sends his or her kids to school each morning — we all depend on robust, well-maintained infrastructure. Allowing free markets to flourish benefits all of us, but there cannot be a functional free market if there is not enough bandwidth through our ports, airports, roads, and internet to get goods back and forth from producers to the consumers who would like to purchase them. Particularly here in Utah, which experienced the largest population growth in the U.S. over the last decade, these investments are necessary to ensure our state can support continued growth.
Another thing that is remarkable about this bill is its commitment to our energy future. The plan includes $73 billion to support the development and deployment of clean energy technologies, climate resiliency and emerging resources. It will support investments in solar, wind, nuclear, clean hydrogen, and energy transmission infrastructure. Currently, wind energy is the cheapest form of energy available to us on a cost per kilowatt hour basis — but the parts of our country that are rich in wind energy (the central plains) do not have adequate transmission lines to send energy produced there to Utah or the rest of the country. There has to be an investment in transmission infrastructure if we want to be able to benefit from these lower energy costs. By putting their support behind this bill, Republicans are showing we are the party of “yes” when it comes to pragmatic solutions that address climate challenges and bolster our economy.
Sometimes it seems that the most energized parts of our two parties are the extreme wings that benefit from refusing to engage the other side, so the bill is also important because it demonstrates that there are issues with a broadly supported middle ground that can be identified if our leaders work together to find it. The leadership demonstrated by Sen. Romney in helping pull this bill together is what I believe voters are looking for. A full 6 in 10 Republicans support the bipartisan plan, according to a Yahoo News survey in June. An astonishing 90% of Utahns think modernizing the electrical grid should be part of an infrastructure package (it is), and almost two-thirds of Utahns want to transition the nation’s energy toward renewable resources.
I hope Utah’s congressmen—Reps. John Curtis, Blake Moore, Burgess Owens and Chris Stewart, will follow Romney’s example and work across party lines to get the federal infrastructure package to President Biden’s desk. This is the right legislation for our economy, for our people and for our future.
Ray Ward, M.D., Ph.D., a Republican from Bountiful, represents District 19 in the Utah House of Representatives.