Guest column: Historic infrastructure bill will improve lives in Minnesota for upcoming generations
Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, August 24, 2021
Guest column by Tina Smith
When the U.S. Senate passed a once-in-a-generation bill to make historic and long-overdue investments in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure this month, we achieved something that has eluded our nation’s lawmakers for decades.
The strongly-bipartisan measure will mean people in Minnesota and across the country will soon see a transformative injection of funds to fix roads, bridges, highways, water systems, railroads, ports and electric grids. It also provides $65 billion to bring quality, affordable broadband networks to communities — especially those in rural America — that for too long have struggled to thrive without modern high-speed internet.
In Minnesota, it will jumpstart the economy and help push to completion hundreds of local projects in communities of all sizes and in every corner of the state. The resulting improvements will create and support good-paying jobs across the country and bolster our nation’s efforts to combat climate change.
Minnesota urgently needs infrastructure investment
The need for infrastructure investment is clear. For decades, Minnesota has suffered from a lack of funding that has restrained efforts to modernize our systems, made travel less efficient and hindered economic growth. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Minnesota a C grade on its infrastructure report card.
Earlier this year, a top state transportation official told the Minnesota Legislature that there are more than 800 bridges in need of repair or replacement in the next decade that are not part of Minnesota’s 10-year funding plan. He also said that without additional funding, Minnesota will be in “unprecedented territory” in the coming years for the number of highways in poor condition.
Fortunately, the Senate-passed infrastructure bill responds to those needs by sending $4.5 billion to Minnesota for highway improvements, $302 million for bridge replacement and repairs, $856 million for our transit systems and at least $100 million for broadband across the state.
That will mean that people in southern Minnesota could see the funding to finish the long-needed upgrades to Highway 14 to improve safety and efficiency. Now, Minnesota will have the resources to take on projects like these across the state.
Minnesota to receive $100 million to improve
When I first came to the Senate, a top priority of mine was to increase access to broadband. It isn’t just nice to have, it’s a 21st century necessity for communities working to attract families and businesses, and to create jobs and economic development. Broadband connects students to a top-notch education and allows health facilities to provide much-needed, often life-saving services, like telehealth. The current pandemic has showed us just how important quality broadband is for people working from home, and for students learning remotely.
Unfortunately, I’ve heard too many stories of Minnesota parents forced to drive to a fast food parking lot in order access a connection good enough to allow their children to do their homework. And even the most well-run businesses struggle to compete — and connect with customers — without quality broadband.
The infrastructure bill changes that. Minnesota will receive a minimum of $100 million, which will significantly boost our state’s effort to connect its 157,000 households currently without service. It also ensures that new broadband services are affordable and that any new systems provide quality connections, so that users — especially those in rural areas — aren’t stuck with sub-par or second class service.
Infrastructure bill to complement coming “Build Back Better” budget
While the infrastructure bill is historic, we still have work to do to make needed investments that give our nation the tools to succeed, cut taxes and lower costs for working families. Shortly after the infrastructure bill passed, the Senate also approved the broad outlines of our “Build Back Better” budget. Under that budget agreement, Congress will work this fall on detailed efforts to significantly improve our nation’s housing, education, child care and clean energy infrastructure as well as lowering prescription drug costs.
One of my top priorities will be to continue my push to transition our nation toward a clean energy future by enacting a clean electricity standard that over time achieves net-zero emissions in our electric sector. It will be central to our efforts to fight climate change, put the United States at the forefront of technology innovation and create millions of good-paying jobs.
With passage of the infrastructure bill, we’re no longer just talking about infrastructure, we’re actually delivering results that will make life better for millions of Minnesotans, create a generation of jobs and economic growth, and position our country to succeed in the 21st century.
Democrat Tina Smith represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.