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Infrastructure lament: 'Deal is more important than the outcome'

Jessica Wehrman, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

The bipartisan Senate negotiators had no sooner convened a giddy, celebratory news conference Wednesday night to celebrate striking a deal on a $944 billion infrastructure agreement, when the criticism began rolling in.

The bill, critics said, didn’t invest enough in safety. It spent too much on highways and not enough on transit. And it fell short of the transformative policy to address climate change that the moment demands.

The legislation, said Beth Osborne, director of Transportation for America, a pro-transit organization, “is the result of folks that think the deal is more important than the outcome.”

She criticized the agreement as “car-focused,” saying while the agreement added funding to transit, it added more to the highway program, which meant any attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by increasing access to transit would be immediately offset by the availability of new highways to drive on.

“Sadly, we won’t be able to negotiate with the climate gods by saying ‘yes, carbon emissions went up, but look at some of the nice transit projects we built,” she said.

Yonah Freemark, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute, said Biden had initially pitched his American Jobs Plan, which he unveiled in March, as aimed at achieving social equity and reducing carbon emissions.

 

The bipartisan plan unveiled Wednesday, he said, is “not going to achieve those outcomes.”

Biden’s initial plans, for example, called for $20 billion for a new program to help undo a federal legacy of building highways and other infrastructure through Black and Brown neighborhoods. The bipartisan framework included $1 billion for that program.

And while it increases funding for transit, it also includes money to expand highways “with virtually no limitations on spending as far as I could tell,” Freemark said.

But he called the dramatic increase in rail — $66 billion over five years — a transformational change.

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