IIJA Infrastructure Investments and Projects

Pam Sornson, JD

January 16, 2024

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) went into effect in 2022 and has been stimulating projects and proposals across industries ever since. Its intent is twofold:

To repair the aging infrastructure that is failing after decades of excessive wear and erosion, and

To build a national workforce capable of maintaining the new foundation while also building capacity for continuing evolution and growth.

The Bipartisan law intends to address several pressing national needs through these investments:

Ensure a safe and functional physical infrastructure and a robust economic foundation for future growth;

Provide all communities with new resources for building their specific economies;

Reduce the inequities that remain so solidly in place in many long-entrenched social systems and

Provide training and employment for millions in both traditional and newly emerging occupations and careers.

The scope of the law is immense. The opportunities it promises for further expansion and advances across all industries are unlimited.

 

One Broad Approach. Many Narrow Targets.

Repairing What’s Broken

In addition to repair costs, the law allocates over $550 billion over eight years toward new developments in digital connectivity, energy systems, and transportation networks to accommodate today’s burgeoning demand for these services.

Projects to expand internet assets through new ‘middle-mile’ infrastructure (the digital bridge that connects data to the users that seek it) will receive some of the $65 billion allowed for that purpose through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Development (BEAD) Program.

A cleaner, more efficient energy industry is also a target of the IIJA. It will invest $65 billion in energy innovation, carbon management, farming and forestry developments, and cleaner transportation systems. Just one goal for this aspect of the bill is to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and its second-highest-in-the-world CO2 emissions. The United States currently emits 14% of the global CO2 exhaust each year, behind only China (39%).

It’s also spending over $100 billion on climate change initiatives and electric grid restructuring in response to the regional flooding, storms, and power outage catastrophes that have occurred in recent years.

These ‘repair and rebuild’ investments are responsive to decades of spending cuts that have left much of the nation’s foundation in tatters.

 

Building What’s Needed

Not insignificantly, the IIJA is also looking to develop ‘best practices’ within systems that impact everyone. The law sets aside funding to establish ten Centers of Excellence affiliated with a planned ‘National Center of Excellence for Resilience and Adaptation.’ This network of government agencies, industry experts, and higher education think tanks will focus its efforts on improving the nation’s transportation and logistics resiliency in the face of worsening weather and climate events. Each Center will receive funding for research and development of resilient transportation, energy, and climate change projects that respond to circumstances within its region. The goal is to prevent the damage and loss experienced in the past by communities living in underdeveloped areas that lack these resources.

Notably, the law’s originators see the administration of each Center of Excellence to be managed (potentially) by a local higher education institution. As coordinators, the schools will administer the $500 billion in new money for ‘surface transportation’ projects, and the schools themselves could also be ‘centers of excellence’ within their region, which would make them eligible for IIJA project funding, as well.

That administrative role is crucial, too, to the success of the overall IIJA project. Within the transportation sector alone, there are 11 key programs established to launch technology deployments and perform advanced research. The work is designed to result in a “future-proofed transportation system that is data-driven and evidence-based”:

Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Grants ($1B, new) to advance smart urban technologies and systems to improve transportation efficiency and safety.

University Transportation Centers (UTCs) ($500M, expanded) – to advance transportation expertise at two- and four-year colleges and universities.

Advanced Transportation Technologies and Innovative Mobility Deployment (ATTIMD) ($300M) – for developing advanced transportation technologies and innovative mobility deployments.

Advanced Research Projects Agency-Infrastructure (ARPA-I) (new) – A new agency focused on leveraging science and technology to address efficiency, safety, and climate goals for transportation infrastructure.

Open Research Initiative (authorized at $250M, new) – to manage unsolicited research pitches that address unmet DOT research needs.

Nontraditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council (institutionalized) – the now legally entrenched NETT Council will identify and resolve gaps associated with nontraditional or emerging transportation technologies.

Transportation Research and Development Five-year Strategic Plan (renewed) – The USDOT Research, Development, and Technology Strategic Plan guides Federal transportation research and development activities.

Smart Community Resource Center (new) – incorporating resources from the USDOT, Operating Administrations, and other Federal Agencies to develop intelligent transportation systems

Joint Office of Energy and Transportation (new) – A DOT and DOE (energy) partnership to study, plan, coordinate, and implement issues of joint concern.

Transportation Resilience and Adaptation Centers of Excellence (TRACE) Grant Program (Authorized at $550M, new) – See above.

In the DOT, more than $4.5 Billion in Research Activities are now and will continue to be focused on a range of critical priorities, including vulnerable road users, the impacts on roads from self-driving vehicles, reduction of driver distractions, and emerging alternative fuel vehicles and infrastructure.

 

With new funding available for almost countless projects that embrace thousands of neighborhoods and millions of people, the IIJA promises to add significant value and better living opportunities for all its communities. To achieve the law’s fullest fruition, however, the effort will also need a workforce development pipeline that delivers precisely trained labor to build and maintain both existing and new resources. For that purpose, the IIJA is looking at the country’s network of community colleges as its training and credentialling foundation. And for that to become a reality, those schools – all 1,038 of them – will have to reidentify themselves as workforce development hubs. That project, too, is in progress. Read on.

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