With a deadline for a threatened government shutdown just ahead, top House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on a sweeping $1.5-trillion fiscal year 2022 omnibus spending package that would fund federal agencies, including their construction and infrastructure programs, through Sept. 30, when fiscal 2022 ends.
The agreement, which House and Senate lawmakers announced early on March 9, would finally unlock the full 2022 increases that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) authorized for certain highway and transit programs.
The measure also has year-over-year increases for many, though not all, major construction accounts.
Final congressional approval came on March 10, when the Senate approved the measure on a 68-31 vote. The House approved the bill one day earlier.
The bill next goes to the White House for President Joe Biden's expected signature. Enactment of the spending package also would avert a government shutdown slated to take effect at midnight March 11.
Belatedly, the Full Amounts
Construction and transportation groups were particularly happy with the news of the deal on the omnibus.
Because the government has been funded since October under a series of stopgap spending extensions, highway and transit formula programs have had to operate under fiscal 2021 levels and only at a pro-rated sum for the length of the stopgaps.
In all, that meant state transportation departments were short about 20%, compared with the IIJA full-year 2022 level.
But if the omnibus is signed into law, the 2022 federal-aid highway obligation limit would be set at $57.5 billion, the IIJA number.
Brian Turmail, Associated General Contractors of America vice president for public affairs and strategic initiatives, told ENR via email, “Fully funding the bipartisan infrastructure measure will help deliver the kind of infrastructure improvements the president promised when he signed the measure into law last year.”
Susan Howard, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials director of policy and government relations, said in an interview, “The [omnibus] bill fully honors what was included in the IIJA.”
To plan their construction programs, state transportation officials much prefer full-year appropriations measures. With the new omnibus, Howard says, "We do have now that certainty, moving forward."
The American Public Transportation Association also welcomed the omnibus, including its full IIJA funding. APTA said that the combination of the transit funding in the omnibus and the funding in the IIJA would bring transit's fiscal 2022 total to $20.5 billion, a boost of $7.6 billion, or 58%, from the enacted 2021 level
Starting Up Delayed IIJA Programs
In another benefit for the highway and transit sector, the omnibus would remove the stopgaps’ block on all new federal programs, including those created under the IIJA.
For highways, Turmail notes, the omnibus would unfreeze the carbon reduction and Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient and Cost-saving Transportation (PROTECT) grant programs, which have yet to get underway.
The transportation carbon reduction program is funded at $6.4 billion over five years; PROTECT has $7.3 billion in formula funding and $1.4 billion in competitive grants over five years.
For transit, one such sidelined program is the All Stations Accessibility Program, which would provide $1.75 billion over five years for improvements to make rail transit stations accessible to handicapped persons.
Looking at other transportation elements in the omnibus, Howard says, “In most cases, we’re seeing significant increases.” For example, a highway infrastructure program, which draws on the general fund, not the Highway Trust Fund, would receive $2.4 billion for 2022, up 20% from the previous year.
The omnibus has increases in non-transportation infrastructure and construction categories, too.
Corps of Engineers' Civil Works
For example, the Army Corps of Engineers civil works program would see its spending climb 7%, to $8.3 billion. Within that total, the Corps’ operation and maintenance account would rise 19%, to $4.6 billion.
But the Corps’ construction account would be pared 8%, to $2.5 billion.
John Doyle, special counsel with law and lobbying firm Jones Walker LLP, said in an interview, "They're good numbers, generally."
Doyle, a former senior Army civil works official, says that the $8.3 billion represents the seventh-straight annual increase for civil works, excluding the sums the Corps has received in other supplemental appropriations measures in recent years.
Federal Buildings, EPA, DOE
Among federal buildings programs, Dept. of Veterans Affairs major projects would see its budget increase 23%, to $1.6 billion.
The General Services Administration’s construction and acquisition account would go up 30%, to $300 million. GSA’s repairs and alterations account also would increase, but by just $5 million, to $582 million.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, the main water infrastructure program, state and tribal grants, would edge up 1%, to $4.35 billion.
But within that total, the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds would both be frozen at their 2021 levels of $1.6 billion and $1.1 billion, respectively.
Kristina Surfus, National Association of Clean Water Agencies managing director for government affairs, told ENR via email that another concern is that Congress included in the Clean Water SRF total about $444 million for "congressionally directed projects"—earmarks. Surfus adds, "That means about one-fourth of the FY 22 funds won't be available to revolve through the state SRFs."
She says, "The revival of Congressionally Directed Projects will deliver important grant funding for many local water and sewer projects, but Congress should provide earmarks with funds beyond annual SRF capitalization grants for these specific projects."
The Dept. of Energy’s defense environmental cleanup program, which remediates former nuclear weapons facilities, is in line for a 4% increase, to $6.7 billion.
In addition to funds contained in the 12 individual appropriations bills for fiscal 2022—each of which covers one or more federal departments or agencies—the omnibus includes $13.6 billion in assistance for Ukraine.
Story updated on 3/10/2022 with Senate passage of the bill.