President Joe Biden this week signed a massive, $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that will provide funding for billions of dollars worth of Arizona projects, including roads, bridges, broadband, water development, water rights settlement, forest management money and responses to the ongoing drought.
The bill passed the senate on a broad, bipartisan vote, but on a mostly party-line vote in the House. Neither chamber has acted on a separate, nearly $2 trillion “social infrastructure” bill, that includes things like subsidized daycare, an array of climate change projects, additions to Medicare health coverage and an array of other shifts spread over the next 10 years.
Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly hailed the passage of the hard-infrastructure bill, including funding to repair 132 Arizona bridges and improve more than 3,100 miles of highway.
Both Kelly and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema played key roles in assembling the bipartisan vote for the package in the Senate.
“This is a big deal for Arizona,” Kelly said in the statement. “This bipartisan infrastructure legislation will bring high-paying jobs to Arizona, fix our roads and bridges, expand high-speed internet access, upgrade our ports of entry in San Luis and Douglas, make Arizona more resilient to wildfires, and help us address this 20-year drought by improving our water infrastructure. These investments are long overdue, and today, they are one step closer to reaching our state.”
On the other hand, the state’s Republican representatives in Congress presented a united front against the bill.
While our nation is in need of infrastructure improvements, the spending in this bill is not paid for and will add to our national debt — plus only a low percentage of the bill is actually spent on real infrastructure needs,” said Congresswoman Debi Lasko.
Arizona would get funding for billions in projects, including:
• $5.2 billion to build and repair roads and bridges over the next five years. Arizona has 132 bridges and more than 3,100 miles of highway in poor condition. Deteriorating road conditions have resulted in an 11% increase in commute time, costing the average motorist in cities like Phoenix about $614 per year.
• $100 million to increase broadband coverage, with much of the money going to rural Arizona. About 13% of Arizona households don’t have internet — including 5% of residents who live in areas without any access at all. The projects would provide access for an estimated 353,000 residents with no access and provide subsidies for 1.8 million low-income residents who can’t afford the internet.
• $3.5 billion earmarked to provide infrastructure on reservations nationally, including the estimated 15,000 homes on the Navajo Reservation without reliable water and sewage treatment.
• $250 million to fund the Lower Basin Drought Contingency plan, to cope with the water rationing triggered by the low water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell. The bill includes another $50 million for drought mitigation measures in the upper basin states and $500 million for the Western Area Power Administration to cope with the loss of electricity caused by the low water levels in the Colorado River reservoirs that generate hydropower.
• $38 million for wildfire mitigation, part of $8.25 billion for wildfire management nationally. In an era of megafires, clearing buffer zones around forested communities like Payson and Show Low hold the key to surviving the next big fire. The bill includes $20 million for Southwest Restoration Institutes, including the one at Northern Arizona University that have played a crucial role in developing plans to restore forest health through thinning projects.
• $2.5 billion to fully pay for Indian water rights settlements. This includes a water project for the White Mountain Apache Tribe, as well as projects on the Gila River Indian Community and the Tohono O’odham Nation.
• $619 million over five years to improve water infrastructure — especially when it comes to providing clean drinking water. Many rural Arizona communities that rely on aging water systems or septic systems have repeatedly had problems with water contamination in recent years. Many reservation communities have also faced problems with groundwater contamination from mining operations.
• $76 million over five years to expand the network of electric vehicle charging stations.
• $348 million to upgrade airports. Phoenix Sky Harbor would receive about $217 million and Tucson some $32 million, but smaller airports like Chinle, Wickenburg, Bisbee and Payson would receive an estimated $500,000 each.
• $883 million over five years to upgrade public transportation, with most of the money going to the big urban areas. However, the money would include support for bus systems, like the one operating now in Payson.
• The bill includes $3.2 billion for Western water projects, including funding for an estimated 150 projects in Arizona to fix dams, canals, aqueducts and pumping plants.