Biden czar touts progress in infrastructure law’s first year

White House infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu touts the progress made in the first year since President Biden signed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law.
Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Senior Advisor to the President and Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator. (Photo courtesy The White House)

The first year of the infrastructure law pumped $185 billion into nearly 7,000 projects across the country in “once-in-a-generation” investments that the White House infrastructure coordinator said Wednesday could help start to bring a politically divided country together.

“We kind of get into this thing about red states and blue states and conservative versus liberal,” former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu told Pluribus News in an interview. “There’s really no Republican or Democratic way to fill a pothole. You just have to fill the damn pothole.”

The infrastructure law, which President Biden signed a year ago this week, is a $1.2 trillion plan that includes $550 billion in new spending over five years to shore up crumbling roads and bridges, build out electrical vehicle infrastructure, expand access to broadband and address lead in drinking water, among other priorities.

“It’s really about building a bridge, literally and figuratively, to the future and it’s part of a much larger economic development mission,” Landrieu said.

Landrieu sought to cast the infrastructure law as one piece — along with the American Rescue Plan, the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS bill — of a broader Biden administration strategy to invest in the country’s economic future and rebuild a U.S.-based manufacturing economy.

In particular, Landrieu highlighted the opportunity for the U.S. to develop a robust battery manufacturing industry to power electric cars.

But as the infrastructure law enters its second year, challenges abound: high inflation, workforce shortages and ongoing supply chain disruptions.

Landrieu called inflation the “biggest challenge for America,” but made the case that infrastructure spending could help bend the curve on inflation by fueling economic growth. He also noted the law puts money into ports and airports which could help with supply chain issues.

He described the shortage of workers as a national problem that requires a local solution, such as making sure job training matches work that’s being done in a local community.

In year one, the infrastructure law helped launch 2,800 bridge repair projects and funded 5,000 new clean buses, according to a White House fact sheet. In addition, approval was granted for state plans for electric vehicle charging networks, high-speed internet and water initiatives.

Roughly 60% of the infrastructure law funds are being distributed to states based on pre-existing formulas. States, tribes and local governments can compete for the remaining 40% through a competitive process.

The law includes requirements to buy American-made products and pay union wages. It also emphasizes equity and reaching historically marginalized communities. Another significant focus is addressing the threat of climate change and the need for resiliency

“We certainly don’t want to build small things that are weak, we want to build bigger things that are strong,” Landrieu told Pluribus News.

While touting the first-year successes, Landrieu acknowledged “we have a long way to go.” He said addressing the country’s infrastructure backlog will require future presidents and Congresses to invest even more.

In the nearer term, Landrieu said the success of the infrastructure law will depend on states and elected officials communicating and partnering with each other — as they are now to build regional hydrogen hubs — because infrastructure often transcends state lines.