Construction and engineering firms that pursue federal infrastructure work will see the benefits flowing from a $21.2-billion boost in infrastructure funds in a newly enacted $1.3-trillion package for fiscal year 2018.
The omnibus measure, which President Trump signed on March 23, averting a government shutdown, was the product of bipartisan negotiations and cleared the House on March 22 by a 256-167 vote.
Observers knew the package probably would include a $10-billion infrastructure infusion contained in a recent bipartisan budget deal. In the omnibus, appropriators spread that $10 billion, and another $11 billion, across a variety of infrastructure programs, including highways, airports, wastewater treatment and drinking water. Steve Hall, American Council of Engineering Companies vice president for government affairs, says, “We could make a strong case that across the board they could be ‘plussed-up’ much, much more, but it’s a good first step.”
Transportation accounts are major beneficiaries, receiving $8.7 billion in additional funds. Within transportation, highways led the way, with a $3.5-billion increase from 2017 levels. Of that total, about $1 billion comes from the Highway Trust Fund to meet the $44.2-billion authorized level set in the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act. The other $2.5 billion comes from the general fund, with most of those dollars to be divided among the states according to their share of overall highway obligations.
Dean Franks, American Road & Transportation Builders Association senior vice president for congressional relations, says the additional $3.5 billion for highways amounts to an increase of about 8% from 2017. He adds, “I think that sets a new baseline, moving forward, on where the investment should be at a minimum.”
Other transportation gains include $1 billion for Federal Aviation Administration airport grants—the largest hike for that program in recent years—and $1 billion for the routinely oversubscribed Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants. The bill also could help the Gateway Program, a set of rail projects in northern New Jersey and New York City, including the $12.7-billion Hudson Tunnel project. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the measure gives the Trump administration authority over funding the program. But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Gateway would get at least $540 million.
Environmental Protection Agency water infrastructure funding also will climb, with $300-million increases for both the wastewater-treatment and drinking-water state revolving funds.
The Army Corps of Engineers civil-works program gets a $789-million hike. Dept. of Veterans Affairs health care facilities will receive a $2-billion boost, including $1 billion for “non-recurring maintenance.”
Some of the package’s $61.1-billion increase in overall defense spending will go for military construction. According to the House Appropriations Committee, the measure hikes “mil con” spending by $2.4 billion, or 31%, from the 2017 level. The measure also allocates $1.6 billion for border infrastructure, including $1.3 billion for new or replacement fencing or barriers.