Infrastructure

What’s for Maine in the Senate’s compromise infrastructure bill?

on

According to estimates from the White House, Maine will receive just over $1.9 billion in funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and can compete for a possible $31 billion.

Many of the estimates are projections based on formula funding. The bill, which was approved by the Senate on August 10, has not yet been debated by the House of Representatives and final funding numbers could still change. 

The largest sum of money Maine is likely to receive would be earmarked for roads and bridges. According to the White House, Maine would receive $1.3 billion in federal aid highway apportioned programs and $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs.

It could also compete for $12.5 billion in funding for the Bridge Investment Program and just under $16 billion in funding dedicated to “major projects that will deliver substantial economic benefits to communities.”

The infrastructure bill spreads funding for the Bridge Investment Program out over five years, from 2022 to 2026. 

The goals of the program include improving the safety, efficiency and reliability of traffic over bridges and reducing the number of bridges in poor condition or at risk of falling into poor condition, as well as reducing the number of bridges that cannot meet current traffic requirements.

The terms of grants made under the program outlined in the bill do not allow eligible projects to be funded more than 50 percent for a large project, defined as having a projected cost of over $100,000, and 80 percent for any other project. Grants made to large projects cannot be under $50 million and grants made to other projects cannot be under $2.5 million.

The federal government will give priority to applications from states that have submitted two or more applications for the current fiscal year or prior fiscal years of the program and have been awarded funding for fewer than two grants eligible under the program.

In determining eligible applications, the federal government will consider factors such as whether funding will avoid costs from closing or reducing traffic on a bridge, and whether funding will benefit national and regional economies, personal and freight mobility and the environment while reducing maintenance costs.

The White House also projects that, using formula funding, Maine will receive $241 million between 2022 and 2026 to improve public transportation options in the state. Additionally, the state is projected to receive $19 million over five years to support expanding the charging network for electric vehicles (EVs). The state will also be able to apply for $2.5 billion the infrastructure bill sets aside in grant funding for electric vehicle charging. 

The infrastructure bill contains $7.5 billion in funding for a national network of electric vehicle charging stations, which the White House calls “a critical element in the Biden-Harris Administration’s plan to accelerate the adoption of EVs to address the climate crisis and support domestic manufacturing jobs.”

Maine will also receive a minimum allocation of $100 million for expanding broadband coverage across the state. At least 23% of Maine residents will also be eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Benefit, which the White House says will “help low-income families afford internet access.”

The Affordable Connectivity Benefit provided within the infrastructure bill modifies an emergency provision established in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

Signed by former president Donald Trump in January 2021, the $2.3 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act provided federal stimulus dollars to help states deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The law created the emergency broadband benefit, which provided a monthly discount of no more than $50 off the cost of internet access provided by a broadband provider for low-income families.

It also created the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which authorized the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reimburse broadband providers with funds from the Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund for the costs associated with the emergency broadband benefit.

The program was initially written to be in effect only during the COVID-19 emergency and was set to expire six months after the federal Department of Health and Human Services terminated the state of emergency declared over COVID-19.

However, the infrastructure bill removes the references to the program as existing during a state of emergency, creating a permanent benefit program and renaming it the Affordable Connectivity Benefit.

It requires that broadband providers allow eligible households to apply the benefit to any internet service offering at the same terms available to households not eligible for the benefit, and forbids broadband providers from asking eligible households to submit a credit check to prove their eligibility. The bill also requires that broadband providers advertise the availability of the program. It also lowers the discount available from $50 to $30.

In April, the White House released a series of report cards on state infrastructure. Maine received a C- for what the report called “a systemic lack of investment.” The report called out the state of Maine’s road and bridges, public transportation, drinking water, housing and broadband access. It also criticized the resilience of Maine’s infrastructure, the state’s caregiving and childcare shortages, the price of home energy and the state’s veteran homes. It further mentioned Maine’s manufacturing and clean energy jobs as areas in which the state is doing well, but that will be developed and improved by funding from the infrastructure bill.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who serves as the ranking member of the Senate’s Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, has been heavily involved in negotiations on the infrastructure bill. 

She was among a group of 10 senators who negotiated the bill’s text and, along with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), led the broadband working group. According to Collins’ Senate website, the working group “reached an agreement to provide $65 billion for the deployment of high-speed Internet to unserved and underserved areas.”

“This bill is good for America and will make historic investments in our nation’s roads, bridges, airports, seaports, rail, water treatment systems, and broadband,” Collins said in a statement after the infrastructure bill cleared a vote in the Senate on August 7 that allowed it to move forward to final passage.

Collins’ office did not return a request for comment about what spending the infrastructure bill directs toward Maine will mean for the people in the state. 

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 69-30 on August 10. It will now be sent to the House of Representatives where it may face challenges. The Senate’s version of the bill was a bipartisan, pared-back version of Biden’s original $2.6 trillion proposal. Progressives in the House of Representatives have previously threatened to tank the bill. The House is expected to take up the bill in late August or early September.

In a press release posted on her Senate website after the bill passed, Collins touted the investment in broadband as a measure that will have a “significant impact” on Maine.

The same release also notes that the infrastructure bill passed by the Senate includes $15 billion in formula funding for the Federal Aviation Administration Airport Infrastructure Grants, which will support Airport Improvement Program projects that could benefit the Portland International Jetport and the Presque Isle International Airport. 

The bill also provides $5 billion in grants for an Airport Terminal Improvement Program, which will set aside money for small hub airports, nonhub airports, and nonprimary airports for communities of all sizes.

Other items mentioned in the press release as items from which Maine will benefit include $254 million in water revolving funds and funding for railroad projects, including funds for Amtrak that will be used to upgrade rail lines, facilities and trains on state-supported routes like the Downeaster.

About Katherine Revello

Katherine Revello is a reporter for The Maine Wire. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine. Her writing has appeared in Reason, The Washington Examiner, and various other publications. Got news tips? Contact Katherine at krevello@mainepolicy.org.

Recommended for you

Comments