Build Back Bridges – U.S. Infrastructure & Saving Sheepford Road Bridge

Monday November 1st – How is it November already? Anyways our episode today takes a bit of a turn as the boys discuss Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The idea of this episode was to pick a bridge that would apply to this program, talk about what all goes into preserving an at risk bridge, and then break down the bridge portion of the infrastructure plan. The boys consensus on which bridge to pick landed on the Sheepford Road Bridge right outside Mechanicsburg (a suburb outside of Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania).

Study poses major setback for group lobbying to save Sheepford Road Bridge

This bridge has been rated 9 out of 10 in historic and technological significance by historicbridges.org and has also been added to the Cumberland County Register of Historical Places. Built in 1887 by the Phoenix Iron Company of Phoenixville, PA the columns of this historical bridge actually inspired Gustav Eiffel when designing his famous tower in Paris (not the columns of this actual bridge but the columns designed by Phoenix Iron Company).

This bridge is very important to the locals in the area, and thus they have composed a group called “The Friends of the Sheepford Road Bridge”. This group proposed 3 options to Cumberland County regarding the maintenance and upkeep of the bridge: 1) Transfer ownership to a new owner to determine future use; 2) Transfer ownership, disassemble and store it for future use; or 3) Transfer Ownership and relocate the bridge to nearby Yellow Breeches Park.

The group has been working tirelessly to save this bridge. The boys wanted to share a quote by Janice Lynx of the West Shore Historical Society:

I know it is a little rusty and peeling, but I am in love with this bridge, who ever thought you could fall in love with this bridge, but as I’ve learned so much about it, about its significance, I’ve just become y’know.”

To learn more about the The Friends of the Sheepford Road Bridge check out the video below!

Preservation Project: Sheepford Road Bridge earns Cumberland County  Register of Historic Places | The Sentinel: News | cumberlink.com

Biden’s Infrastructure Plan

Now we get into the nitty gritty…. first off, its important we take a step back and cover what the current status of the infrastructure bill is. And as a quick side note, we want to let all of our non-US listeners to bear with us while we chat about US politics (if you love bridges this should be interesting). Back in August the Senate voted and the bill passed (69-30), but the house still has to vote. Looking at a few sources it looks like this vote should happen tomorrow (Tuesday November 2nd).

Ironically enough, the bill has to still go through congress and there are some points of turmoil; Nancy Pelosi has stated the the house would not vote on the infrastructure bill until the $3.5 trillion 2022 Budget Reconciliation is completed which is more
“controversial” than the infrastructure bill.

The problem with US infrastructure is that the increased demand in maintenance and new projects outpaces the ability to find them. State and local governments provide about 75% of funding for all transportation infrastructure projects, however federal participation plays a huge role in providing revenue and financing tools that state/city governments rely on. Historically the feds paid their share through the highway trust fund, which is funded primarily through the federal user fee on gasoline. In 2008 spending exceeded declining revenue in the fund for the first time since 1956. This was primarily due to:

  • The 18.4 cents per gallon user fee on gas has not increased since 1993
  • The user fee on gas has not indexed to factors including fuel economy standards, construction costs, or inflation which results in a user fee with a purchasing powers worth 40% less than its value in 1993
  • Technological innovations and federal fuel regulations have made vehicles far more efficient, resulting in further revenue reductions for the trust

As a result, congress has been supplementing the trust since 2008 to the tune of $157 billion through transfers from the US treasury general fund and other funds. This essentially kicks the can down the road and places the infrastructure burden on other funds – allegedly costing families $1,080 per year in lost disposable income and resulting in $786 billion backlog of road and bridge projects.

When you take this context and apply it to todays state of US infrastructure its pretty jarring. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the US infrastructure a C- grade in 2021. 42% of bridges in the country are at least 50 years old and 7.5% are considered structurally deficient. On top of that, climate change poses and existential threat to bridges:

A study was performed in 2019 which showed how the vast majority of American bridges have not been designed to withstand the thermal expansion and contraction associated with climate change. As global temperatures rise and regions face higher and higher extreme temperatures, the expansion joints at essential bridges can fail.

So with all of this said, the infrastructure bill is a must for bridges. The bill itself is advertised as $1.2 trillion (total spending) but only includes $550 billion in new spending – the rest of the funding was previously approved. $110 billion is dedicated to roads, bridges, and major projects. Of that, $40 billion is reserved for bridge repair, restoration, and replacement.

So where is all of this money coming from? We won’t get into all of this but in addition to corporate tax increases the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) would utilize ~$380 billion worth of previously approved but unused funds ranging form COVID relief to stronger crypto tax enforcement.

The IIJA will provide many programs for bridges. The grant program establishes a new competitive program to assist state, local, federal, and tribal entities in rehabilitating or replacing bridges. The Build America Buy America Act will require American-made iron, steel, and manufacture products to be used across the board. The goal is to ensure taxpayer dollars are used to purchase American-made products for all federally funded infrastructure projects. This bill was introduced in 2017 and was acknowledged and pledged to by the Trump admin, but was never signed. It was reintroduced this year and signed/absorbed by the IIJA.

Lastly, the boys wanted to share the Surface Transportation Reauthorization outlined by the National Associate of Counties (NACo). This provides a foundation for highway, road, bridge, and rail provisions. On the episode the boys break it down, so we won’t get to in the weeds on this post, but all the information is provided here.

The most interesting points the boys pulled from the Reauthorization are: the highway trust fund, the surface transportation block grant, the new bridge investment program, and the wildlife crossings program. Lastly, the boys wanted to highlight a few things the bill doesn’t include…. a bridge boys sponsorship!

All jokes aside, we know this episode was a lot of information, but its important to learn about the IIJA and break it down to show how helpful it will be for our beloved bridges – and perhaps provide a framework for other countries.

To dive deeper into the information above. Be sure to check out this weeks episode!

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