“We will take as much money as the federal government can send us and I would say almost all states are in a similar situation,” said Bill Panos, director of the North Dakota Department of Transportation, who is also chairman of the Western Association of State Highway Transportation Officials.
Panos has a 10-year plan for North Dakota that is expected to cost $ 2 billion just to maintain existing infrastructure – about the amount of federal funding the state expects to receive for investments in roads and highways. if the bill passes. North Dakota Senators Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven, both Republicans, voted for the bill.
“These are the kind of projects that bring food from the farm to your grocery store,” Panos added.
Iowa farmer Dave Walton is a prime example of the problem situation. During the fall harvest, he drives his soybeans east to a terminal on the Mississippi River, where a barge will eventually transport them to the Gulf of Mexico. But this first leg of the journey is taking Walton much longer than before.
“We have to detour in several places now because the bridges are in bad shape and the weight limit has dropped,” said Walton, adding: “It can be miles and miles.”
While waiting for the Congress
As currently drafted, infrastructure legislation would invest $ 110 billion in roads and bridges, $ 39 billion in public transportation, $ 66 billion in passenger rail, $ 17 billion in port infrastructure and $ 25 billion in airports, among others. The bigger spending bill focuses more on Biden’s social policies, including an extension of the child tax credit, paid time off allowance, universal pre-kindergarten and free community college.
And a proposal that angered farmers was withdrawn from the House version of the bill following criticism from many agricultural trade groups. He reportedly taxed unrealized capital gains to help foot the bill, affecting those who want to pass their farm on to the next generation – although the White House has said it will exclude family farmers.
Johnathan Hladik, political director of the Center for Rural Affairs, argues that Congress should repair basic traditional infrastructure before tackling other problems.
“First of all, let’s solve the basic problems. We have to travel long distances here just to live our daily life,” Hladik said.
Delays on waterways cost $ 44 million per year
The Mississippi River provides a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to move and export agricultural and manufactured goods, but most locks are older than the 50 years they were designed to be. Although improvements have been made recently, delays still cost $ 44 million a year, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
A lock closure could cause a major problem, pushing back barges with no other way out until it is repaired.
“The locks are showing their age. The real big worry is having one of these sites fail during harvest season,” said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition.
The infrastructure bill would provide much-needed funding to improve the inland waterway system, as well as expand the country’s broadband system – a potential boon for people living in rural America. There is hope that improved infrastructure can revive rural communities, which have lost population over time.
“In order to retain the population and grow, you will need infrastructure,” said former North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat, who is currently director of agriculture for the tax consultancy. alliantgroup. “You are not going to live in a place where you cannot stream Netflix.”