United States transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg doled out US$905 million in infrastructure grants Wednesday, including to repair a cracking bridge in Seattle during a crippling heat wave and to expand ports in Iowa and Georgia to help reduce the number of greenhouse gas-emitting trucks on the roads.
The money for 24 projects in 18 states is part of a Biden administration shift of federal awards to promote climate-friendly policies and racial equity.
Federal aid will also go to California to reduce traffic fatalities in south Los Angeles and to Maine for bridge repair.
“These timely investments in our infrastructure will create jobs and support regional economies, while helping to spur innovation, confront climate change, and address inequities across the country,” Buttigieg said.
The money awarded Wednesday under the department’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program offers a glimpse into how the administration hopes to steer federal transportation dollars in the months ahead.
Biden seeking big bucks
President Joe Biden is currently making his pitch for hundreds of billions in new infrastructure spending to fix crumbling roads and bridges, though the outcome remains uncertain in Congress.
Under the grant program, Seattle will be awarded $11.3 million for major repairs on the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge, which was closed in March 2020 due to cracks in multiple locations, triggering alarm of a possible collapse, as well as the Spokane Street Swing Bridge running adjacent to it. The city has been racing to spray down and cool several of its bridges to avert weather-related damage like sink holes or fissures due to the heat wave in the Northwest.
Repair work to the bridge, a lifeline to west Seattle, is scheduled to last to mid-2022. The city said it hoped to avoid repair delays because of current detours that send heavy traffic into surrounding lower-income neighborhoods, adding to pollution and road hazards for residents there.
“Restoring the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge to full capacity is critical to the Seattle region’s ability to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mayor Jenny Durkan and city council members wrote in their application.
Iowa will get $5 million to increase capacity at its Gavilon marine port and rail facility in Dubuque, helping to support direct transport of fertilizer from river barge to rail and reduce truck travel. The Georgia Ports Authority will receive $46.9 million to build a new inland container port along the I-85/I-985 corridor in an unincorporated area of Gainesville. And Philadelphia Regional Port Authority will get $49 million to help cover funding for improvements at Southport.
The Los Angeles project, meanwhile, will receive $18 million to help add 26 new traffic signals, new separated bike lanes, high visibility crosswalk markings, bus boarding islands, upgraded curb ramps and additional shade trees in a mostly nonwhite section of the city where pedestrian and bicycle deaths are high.
During the Trump administration, the Transportation Department prioritized roads projects that encouraged car travel, with more than half of funding typically going to rural areas, which was more than double the minimum 25% set by statute.
On Wednesday, the department said 44% of its first awards will go to rural projects.