As the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act nears its 18th month on the books, the White House reports continued progress in rolling out the historic $1.2 trillion from the five-year measure. State and industry officials continue to welcome the IIJA's hefty funding but they note that persistent inflation has made construction materials more expensive.

They also say that after funding is announced, the processes to turn discretionary grant awards into obligated funding and also to gain permits to enable construction to start can take too long.

"It is great to see the administration making so many funding announcements," Brian Turmail, Associated General Contractors of America vice president of public affairs and strategic initiatives, said via email.

But Turmail added, "Alas, not much has happened on many of those projects since those announcements." One reason, he said, is that "this administration has shown little motivation to enact measures already signed into law that would accelerate the permitting process."

In a fact sheet released on May 12, the White House said since the IIJA was signed on Nov. 15, 2021, federal agencies have announced more than $220 billion in funding. The support has gone to 32,000 projects and grant awards spread over 4,500 jurisdictions in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

The $220 billion compares with $180 billion announced or distributed as of Oct. 13, the White House said at the IIJA's 11-month mark.

“We’re breaking ground, we’re turning dirt and we’re getting it done,” Mitch Landrieu, the White House infrastructure implementation coordinator, said in a May 12 briefing.

In the largest infrastructure category, surface transportation, IIJA-funded repairs have started on 69,000 miles of roads and highways and 4,600 bridges, Landrieu said in his IIJA progress report. 

The billions of IIJA highway and bridge dollars distributed among states by formula were among the first from the law to be allocated, thanks in part to the relatively early enactment of an appropriations measure, Susan Howard, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials director of policy and government relations, said in an interview.

Highway Competitive Grants 

But for the IIJA funds that the U.S. Dept. of Transportation awards via a competition among states and other applicants, state DOTs "are seeing challenges across the board" in getting those funds obligated to specific projects, Howard said.

Once U.S. DOT awards competitive grants, it can take as long as 18 months to have a formal grant agreement signed and executed, necessary steps before obligating the dollars, she added.

"We all should be putting an eye on making that process run smoother and a little quicker so that we can make sure that all the dollars in the IIJA that are coming through discretionary grants can be fully obligated," she said.

Moreover "we are really seeing a lot of inflationary impacts right now," Howard added, saying it currently costs state DOTs more to carry out the same volume of projects undertaken before inflation.

Even so, "I feel like if not for the IIJA, we could be in a really tenuous situation right now, and not able to keep projects on schedule," she said.

Rail, Aviation and Transit

Elsewhere in transportation, passenger rail is one of the biggest winners among infrastructure categories, with a total of $66 billion. Of that, the White House says, $9 billion has been made available for projects on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and $4.6 billion for projects outside the corridor.

For aviation, the infrastructure act includes $25 billion for airports. So far, the Federal Aviation Administration has awarded $2 billion for the new airport terminal program for hundreds of projects in 42 states. To date, 70 terminal projects are under construction. In addition, the FAA Airport Investment Grants program is using IIJA dollars on 600 infrastructure projects and 400 pavement projects.

Transit fared well under the IIJA, receiving a record $90 billion, the White House says. Of that, the Federal Transit Administration has allocated $7.4 billion for 60 projects under its Capital Investment Grant program, which funds new starts. 

The statute has $50 billion for Environmental Protection Agency water infrastructure, including drinking water and wastewater treatment projects. Of the total, EPA so far has distributed $5.1 billion to states, tribes and territories through its State Revolving Funds programs.

Waterways and Ports

Of the legislation's $17 billion for port and inland waterway infrastructure, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced $4 billion for specific projects. So far, five major projects are under construction, "with more starting in the coming weeks," the White House said in a fact sheet.

Water projects "take multiple years to complete," Tracy Zea, CEO of industry group Waterways Council Inc., said in an interview.

"It's a multi-generational investment," Zea added. Without the IIJA money, such projects as a new Lock & Dam 26 on the Upper Mississippi River and a new chamber for Montgomery Lock on the Ohio River in western Pennsylvania would not be underway, he said.

Zea added that waterway projects have experienced "significant" cost increases. "Inflation's been something that the Corps has been trying to really get their arms wrapped around and manage it.

 "The biggest thing that they're trying to do is just finish projects ... so that the nation can realize the benefits that these projects provide," Zea said.

Since the IIJA's enactment, Landrieu said, “We’ve hit the ground running. We’re now seeing tangible progress and it’s time for us to finish the job."