In a State of the Union address that led off with forcefully outlining U.S. actions aimed at deterring Russia’s attack on Ukraine, President Joe Biden also pledged to follow through on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, describing a strong 2022 start in putting its hundreds of billions of dollars to work on highways, water systems and other types of projects.
In his March 1 speech, Biden declared, “We’re done talking about infrastructure weeks. We’re now talking about an infrastructure decade.”
[View prepared text of Biden's address here.]
Biden said that 4,000 IIJA-funded projects “have already been announced.” The White House said that those projects include airport and maritime port improvements and Superfund cleanups.
A White House fact sheet said that since the IIJA went on the books last Nov. 15, almost $100 billion of its funds has been "announced" and is moving to states, localities and other recipients. The White House outline also said federal agencies have issued notices of funding availability for an additional $50 billion in projects, which will be awarded through competitions.
The IIJA’s overall funding is estimated at $1 trillion to $1.2 trillion.
In Biden's State of the Union speech—his first—the president said that this year, repairs will begin on more than 65,000 miles of highways and 1,500 bridges. The White House fact sheet said the highway figure is an increase of 44% and the bridge number is up 50% from "average annual improvement levels" over the last six years.
In addition, Biden recapped other familiar highlights of the IIJA programs, including plans to build a network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations and starting replacement of drinking-water pipes that contain lead.
Biden said the infrastructure program “is going to transform America, to put us on a path to win the economic competition of the 21st Century that we face with the rest of the world—particularly China.”
He added, “We’ll create good jobs for millions of Americans modernizing roads, airports, ports, waterways all across America.” Biden also said the plan will include “affordable high-speed internet for every American.”
Biden said, “And we’ll do it to withstand the devastating effects of climate change and promote environmental justice.”
Linda Bauer Darr, American Council of Engineering Cos. president and chief executive officer, in a post-speech statement praised Biden and Congress for passing and signing the IIJA.
But Darr added that “we also recognize that much still needs to be done for the bill to truly live up to its name.”
In particular, Darr pointed to the problem caused by the use of short appropriations extensions—instead of full-year spending bills—for the federal government, including infrastructure programs.
Darr said, “Short-term stopgap spending measures do not include the funding levels necessary to carry out the work the IIJA has authorized.”
Congress has failed to approve appropriations for all agencies for the full 2022 fiscal year and instead has fallen back on short extensions. The most recent stopgap is due to expire on March 11.
But Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the top GOP member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a statement that Biden "took a premature victory lap tonight on his massive infrastructure spending law."
Graves added, "While the price of everything—from gas and diesel, to food and clothing, to construction materials needed for roads and bridges—remains on the rise, Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine further underscores the need for the administration to tackle out-of-control spending and inflation, restore our energy independence and stop creating more red tape that increases infrastructure costs."
Biden also called for Congress to approve the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, an overhaul of federal labor law that is a top legislative priority for labor unions. Among other things, the bill, which the House has passed but is stalled in the Senate, would make it easier for unions to mount organizing campaigns at workplaces.
But Associated Builders and Contractors, in a statement, blasted the PRO Act as "devastating." ABC said that the administration, by backing the bill and other actions it has taken, "has spent its first year in office relentlessly advocating for policies that steer construction contracts to unionized companies and workers."
But International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers President Lonnie Stephenson, in a statement after Biden's address, said the union and its members "applaud the Biden administration's pro-worker, pro-union approach to governing." Stephenson cited the administration's support of the PRO Act among several examples.