Northern California leaders cheer funding infusion for infrastructure, but Huffman calls bill short of ‘transformative’

“We’ve been waiting for an infrastructure bill for years,” said Suzanne Smith of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. “I’m just thrilled to have it done and have it be at funding levels that are really going to make a difference.”|

How does California stand to benefit from $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill?

It is too early to say precisely how much money is expected to come to Sonoma County and the North Bay from the bill signed Monday by President Joe Biden. But California as a whole is to receive $45 billion just through baseline boosts to infrastructure funding. Here’s how that sum breaks down:

– More than $25 billion for highways

– $4.2 billion for bridges

– $9.4 billion for public transportation

– $3.5 billion for clean water projects

– $1.5 billion for airport infrastructure

– $384 million for expanding electric vehicle charging stations

– $100 million for broadband coverage

– $40 million for cyber security

– $84 million for wildfire resilience

– Billions more dollars will be available in different grant funding programs

SOURCE: White House

North Bay officials hailed the prospect of long-awaited investments in the region’s internet connectivity, roadways, transit systems and electric grid Monday as President Joe Biden signed a $1.2 trillion dollar infrastructure package into law on the White House lawn.

Here at home, sums of federal money unprecedented in decades are expected soon to begin flowing to public transportation, roads and bridges. Though local leaders said it was too soon to put precise dollar figures on what might reach Sonoma County and the region, White House officials projected California will receive nearly $45 billion just through baseline boosts to infrastructure funding.

“Today is an historic day as we take a monumental step forward in rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, creating jobs and addressing climate change,” Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, who attended the bill signing, wrote on Twitter.

But Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said that while the bill’s passage and signing was a big step for the U.S. economy, Democrats in Washington had yet to finish the job, he said.

“I’m not spiking the football,” Huffman told The Press Democrat, “I’m glad this passed and there will be benefits ... but I want the entire agenda.”

Huffman was referring to the now $1.85 trillion Build Back Better Act, a more expansive package of climate and social safety net programs. It remained without a scheduled House vote as the week began, though Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged to bring it to that stage.

On its own, Huffman said, the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act does not do enough to protect the nation or his coastal Northern California district from the ravages of climate change.

“This is a transportation and infrastructure bill that we could’ve written in the 1980s,” Huffman said. “It’s going to help us build highways and bridges and all that, but it’s thin on transformative policies.”

Local officials said lengthy federal rule making and state-level distribution processes — including the likely say of the state Legislature on some funding streams — would ultimately determine how much money is headed to the North Bay.

But the eye-popping dollar amounts and new funding pots align at last with the region’s ambitious infrastructure goals, local government officials said.

“This federal bill really shifts some focus to having resilient infrastructure and that’s great news for us and for the North Bay,” said Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. She cited in particular the woes of Highway 37, portions of which in Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties are at risk from rising seas.

“We’ve been waiting for an infrastructure bill for years,” Smith said. “I’m just thrilled to have it done and have it be at funding levels that are really going to make a difference.”

Like most local officials Monday, Smith was reluctant to put precise figures on how much her agency, which funds transportation projects in Sonoma County cities and at the county level, might receive. But in an indicator of the bill’s scope, Smith said the new funding could cover as much as $30 million in local projects over about five years, boosting federal funding in that window to around $70 million.

In Santa Rosa, the infrastructure bill could mean a quicker transition to an all-electric bus fleet, Deputy Director of Transportation and Public Works Rachel Ede said. Ede also anticipated her agency would see a boost to its baseline funding, helping it shore up operating costs in the wake of the pandemic’s devastating impact on public transit.

“California will greatly benefit and therefore the Bay Area will greatly benefit,” said Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, board chair of SMART. The passenger rail agency has relied heavily on federal dollars to cover its buildout. For SMART and other agencies, Rabbitt said, “there’s a lot more dollars in the pot.”

California will receive more than $25 billion for highways, $4.2 billion for bridges and $9.4 billion for public transportation, according to a White House news release. Those are just increases to baseline federal funding streams, and billions more dollars will be available in different grant funding programs.

The state can also expect $384 million for expanding electric vehicle charging stations, $100 million for broadband coverage, $40 million for cybersecurity and $1.5 billion for airport infrastructure. There is another $84 million for wildfire resilience and $3.5 billion for clean water projects headed the state’s way.

Napa County seeks its share of infrastructure dollars

Napa Valley Transportation Authority will be advocating for local needs at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which will be allocating California money for Bay Area projects, according to the Napa Valley Register.

The Napa County wish list includes improving the intersection of highways 29 and 12 at Airport Boulevard near Jameson Canyon; extending Newell Drive to provide a south county Highway 29 parallel route; and easing Silverado Trail congestion.

Beyond roads, there’s a long-term goal of laying 238 miles of fiber-optic cable to extend broadband internet service to much of the county, at a projected cost of $118 million.

Funding for $3 million in engineering for the Napa Valley Vine Trail wasn’t in the final version of the infrastructure bill.

The infrastructure bill is not structured to quickly infuse state and regional economies with a flood of federal dollars like recent pandemic stimulus plans. Instead, it will be delivered over coming years.

The Biden administration is staggering the funding in part to avoid fueling inflation, according to the New York Times. Inflation is already rising at the fastest rate it has in three decades.

Nineteen Senate Republicans, including Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, and thirteen House Republicans voted for the infrastructure bill, a rare bipartisan win Biden touted heavily during Monday’s celebration. To secure passage, Democrats let go of proposals that initially put the bill’s spending at $2.3 trillion.

Those compromises included much of the bill’s climate priorities, Huffman argued.

Take, for example, the electrical grid. The infrastructure bill includes $65 billion to remodel the nation’s electrical grid.

But, Huffman argued, the more expansive Build Back Better Act carries the critical investments and tax breaks that will keep the nation building renewable energy.

“This bill will help us move electrons around the country but unless we pass the Build Back Better Act it will be mostly dirty electrons,” Huffman said.

Among the more transformative renewable energy projects Huffman is calling for are massive wind farms proposed off the coast of Humboldt Bay. Such projects carry the promise for significant economic investment in a long-neglected portion of Huffman’s district, which stretches from the Golden Gate to the Oregon border.

Progressives backed the infrastructure bill following off-year election losses and close scares in Virginia and New Jersey. They did so with verbal agreements from their more moderate colleagues that the House would take up the second piece of the Democrats’ domestic policy agenda — the Build Back Better Act.

“For the next few days its really about holding my House colleagues to the commitments we’ve made,” Huffman said.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88

Andrew Graham

Business enterprise and investigations, The Press Democrat 

I dig into businesses, utility companies and nonprofits to learn how their actions, or inactions, impact the lives of North Bay residents. I’m looking to dive deep into public utilities, labor struggles and real estate deals. I try to approach my work with the journalism axioms of giving voice to the voiceless, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable in mind.

How does California stand to benefit from $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill?

It is too early to say precisely how much money is expected to come to Sonoma County and the North Bay from the bill signed Monday by President Joe Biden. But California as a whole is to receive $45 billion just through baseline boosts to infrastructure funding. Here’s how that sum breaks down:

– More than $25 billion for highways

– $4.2 billion for bridges

– $9.4 billion for public transportation

– $3.5 billion for clean water projects

– $1.5 billion for airport infrastructure

– $384 million for expanding electric vehicle charging stations

– $100 million for broadband coverage

– $40 million for cyber security

– $84 million for wildfire resilience

– Billions more dollars will be available in different grant funding programs

SOURCE: White House

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