President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan would provide an overdue fix to deteriorating highways while ramping up investment in modern transit including high-speed rail, three members of Georgia’s congressional delegation said Wednesday.
Freshman Democratic U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux of Suwanee and Nikema Williams of Atlanta and veteran Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Stone Mountain, addressed the legislation during an online roundtable with state and regional transportation agency heads and metro-Atlanta local elected officials. All three are members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The bill, which Biden unveiled last week, calls for repairing and upgrading the nation’s roads, bridges and transit systems, but would also include other infrastructure needs like broadband, water and wastewater projects.
It would move well past rebuilding the interstate highway system begun by President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the transportation committee’s chairman, who addressed the group at the start of the discussion.
“We’re not doing Eisenhower 8.0,” he said. “We’re moving into the 21st century with our infrastructure.”
DeFazio said the legislation would create lots of good paying union jobs, more than enough to make up for the jobs lost when Biden canceled the controversial Keystone Pipeline.
In fact, DeFazio cited a report from Moody’s Investors Service that predicted a return of $1.50 for every $1 the federal government spends on infrastructure improvements.
The bill faces an uphill battle in Congress. While progressive Democrats are urging an even bigger infrastructure package, Republicans are digging in to oppose the legislation because it would be paid for with higher taxes on corporations.
Johnson said the U.S. can’t afford not to spend the money.
“We should not be 13th in the world investing in our infrastructure,” he said. “We have to have a government willing to make the initial investments.”
Williams said her vision for transportation is centered around providing equity by revitalizing transit stations in low-income communities to attract economic development.
MARTA is doing just that with a $50 million upgrade of the Bankhead rail station in conjunction with a planned 90-acre Microsoft campus. The fiscal 2022 state budget the General Assembly adopted last week put $6 million toward the project.
“We’re really aligned with the initiative the [House] committee and the president are putting together,” said Jeff Parker, MARTA’s general manager and CEO.
Bourdeaux said chronic traffic congestion in metro Atlanta is hurting economic development in the region. More transit options would go a long way toward solving the problem, she said.
“We do have to widen roads,” Bourdeaux said. “[But] all of us are interested in transit and new ways to do things.”