The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill & Colorado

The bill makes large investments in the upkeep of pre-existing infrastructure such as roads. || Photo by: Alice Mach

The Bill faces a rocky week in the House before it can proceed to Joe Biden’s desk

Tuesday, Aug. 10, the Senate passed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act with unanimous democratic support and yes votes from 19 Republicans (NPR). The bill has remained in limbo since then, waiting on another vote in the House which had been in recess until Monday. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had promised centrists she would hold the vote on Sep. 27. However, Progressive Democrats say they will withdraw their support for the bill if it does not advance in tandem with a much larger, partisan spending package (NBC). 

The bipartisan bill would spend “around $550 billion in new federal investment in America’s roads and bridges, water infrastructure, resilience, internet, and more,” according to a White House fact sheet. The larger spending plan is a $3.5 trillion budget framework, part of Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda, which Progressives hope to pass as a reconciliation bill, without support from Republicans. However, Democrats have only a single vote majority in the Senate and will therefore need full support from moderates for the budget to pass. 

The bipartisan bill includes $110 billion for roads and bridges, $66 billion for railroads, and $39 billion for public transit, amongst other things (Investopedia). The language of the bill specifically mentions Colorado only once: in reference to a rail technology research center in Pueblo. 

Assuming either spending package passes, Manish Shirgaokar, an assistant professor at CU Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning, worries about how effectively the money will be used. He thinks there is a gap that needs to be bridged between those who design and implement policy and experts from the fields which that policy addresses. 

The bill allocates funding for a wide variety of infrastructure projects; Prof. Shirgaokar’s specific expertise is in transportation. When/if the state receives additional funding for transportation infrastructure from these bills, he thinks that experts such as himself should have input on how that money is spent. “The consultant at (the Colorado Department of Transportation) probably does their job really well, but in the interest of good policy…the good of everyone, we should be able to get in there, look at some of this work and critique it as partners.” 

Shirgaokar pointed out that different demographics of people have different infrastructure needs—needs which current infrastructure does not address, and the infrastructure bill makes no specific guarantee to combat this inequity. According to the Colorado census, 7.2 percent of Coloradoans under 65 have a disability. “So, let’s conservatively think one in 10 Coloradoans (factoring in persons over 65) needs a certain kind of infrastructure that’s perhaps not being supplied.” Does the infrastructure bill address this inequity? “I don’t see the language,” he says. 

The money from this bill could give Colorado an opportunity to reassess its infrastructure priorities, according to Shirgaokar. With increasingly high levels of pollution each year and $110 billion proposed spending for roads and bridges, he wonders, “do we really want to produce more infrastructure for single occupancy cars?” 

The bill is also an opportunity for universities in Colorado, according to Shirgaokar. “All of these campuses produce skilled analysts, policy thinkers, geographers, engineers, planners… We train students to think about infrastructure policy and planning… So, our leadership here at this university should be listening and saying, ‘oh, this is going to create jobs for students.”

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