As we head into baseball season, what President Biden delivered today with the American Jobs Plan is reminiscent of Babe Ruth pointing towards the fences. Now it’s up to Congress to follow through with a home run, not just for the president, but for our whole country. The American Jobs Plan delivers a bold vision for our country, addressing the challenges of our past and making a bold investment in our future while creating millions of good jobs.
So, what are the transportation elements of the package?
First, a historic investment in public transportation and passenger rail. The plan includes $85 billion over eight years in transit service. This is invaluable for people in cities and suburbs who rely on rail and bus service to meet their daily needs, and who will need these services more as vaccination picks up and the economy recovers. Importantly, this will help improve bus service, which as of 2018 carried nearly half of all transit riders (For this and other facts check out the American Public Transportation Association’s latest Fact Book).
The Biden administration’s earlier American Rescue Plan helped to reduce hemorrhaging of service and jobs from transit agencies nationwide, and this plan would help agencies improve service frequency and quality so more of us can ride instead of drive if we prefer. This is important not just for equity’s sake since access to good, reliable transit service can mean owning and maintaining one car instead of two (cars are costly and depreciating assets), but also for tackling climate change since increased ridership reduces car trips and miles-of-travel, cutting carbon pollution.
Second, an unprecedented $80 billion investment in intercity rail, approximately quadrupling the current budget. This is something Secretary Pete Buttigieg has talked about in speeches and tweets since he was confirmed, most recently announcing a major investment deal to improve service between Richmond and Washington, D.C. As the Urban Institute’s Yonah Freemark tweeted, “The US has never taken intercity rail seriously. What is being proposed in this plan would allow the construction of new lines, allow Amtrak to run way more service on new routes.” The pivotal Northeast Corridor is mentioned explicitly in the plan, which is alone worth about $100 million daily to the U.S. economy.
Two programs stand out due to their implications for environmental and racial justice:
- $20 billion for local jurisdictions to tear down facilities that divide communities and invest in new infrastructure that connects us instead, a big step towards remedying the history of racism and discrimination in U.S. transportation policy. The White House fact sheet says it best: “Too often, past transportation investments divided communities—like the Claiborne Expressway in New Orleans or I-81 in Syracuse—or it left out the people most in need of affordable transportation options.” New spending will “ensure new projects increase opportunity, advance racial equity and environmental justice, and promote affordable access.” This is one of the more laudable, overdue proposals in the plan.
- $17 billion will be invested in inland waterways, coastal ports, land ports of entry, and ferries, which are all essential to our nation’s freight, including a Healthy Ports program to mitigate the cumulative impacts of air pollution on neighborhoods near ports, often communities of color. While we still need more details, ports pollution is a serious public health threat and warrants serious investment.
Third, $115 billion is allocated to bridge, road, highway, and street projects with an emphasis on “fixing it right” in addition to “fixing it first.” Again, we need more details, but in principle this is spot-on. We have a maintenance and repair backlog in this country, leading public officials such as former DOT Secretary Ray LaHood to quip that the whole nation is a pothole and Michigan Governor Whitmer to adopt the slogan “fix the damn roads.” We are overdue to put our roads in good repair. And some roads may need to be redesigned, if for example they are likely to be flooded or subjected to extreme weather events thanks to climate change or if they were recklessly rammed through a neighborhood.
Fourth, the plan also includes a game-changing investment of $174 billion to accelerate the electrification of our enormous car and truck fleet, set the U.S. up to better compete in the EV market globally, ensure these vehicles are manufactured by American workers with good jobs, and drive down carbon pollution from our enormous fleet of cars and trucks. Specifically, it includes investments in electric vehicle infrastructure delivering 500,000 charging stations by 2030, transit and school bus programs aimed at turning over those fleets to cleaner vehicles, and incentives to buy American-made electric vehicles. The last also includes a rebate for lower-income buyers of zero-emitting electric vehicles, a policy to make the market for electric vehicle more equitable. A necessary complement to these investments should be the administration’s next step towards clean cars: Building on Obama-era clean car standards to put us on track to transition to new sales of all zero-emitting vehicles by 2035.
With Biden’s bold calling of the shot today, we are all set for a historic moment. Unlike with the Babe, it’s now up to Congress to step into the batter’s box and take a swing for the fences. A home run can be had, one that will deliver greater racial equity and cleaner transportation for all.