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Tolling Points

The Biden Administration Transition Begins with Infrastructure as One Early Priority

By: 
Bill Cramer

As votes are still being counted, the transition from one administration to another has begun after a long and bruising U.S. election campaign. With President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris declared the winners, the tolling and transportation industry is eager to see if transportation policy and infrastructure investment are addressed early in 2021. 

The very name of their transition website, BuildBackBetter.com, speaks to one of the key talking points Biden-Harris brought to the campaign trail. The site lists COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate change as the four intersecting challenges the new administration will focus on “Day One”.

In these early days, with the Electoral College due to meet December 14, the inauguration set for January 20, and two high-stakes Senate elections taking place in Georgia on January 5 there is much uncertainty. As of Monday afternoon, there are some things we know, some unknowns, and a lot of interesting speculation about what the new administration will be able to do, particularly if a Biden Administration faces a Republican majority in Senate and a Democratic majority in the House.

What we know

The BuildBackBetter site lays out a set of priorities that won’t come as a surprise to anyone who was following the policy debate during the campaign. Biden promised $50 billion for highway, road, and bridge repairs in the first year of a new administration, stability for the long-suffering Highway Trust Fund, and investment to bring historically marginalized communities to the table.

The economic recovery section of the BuildBackBetter site begins with a focus on pandemic recovery, stating that “we can’t solve the jobs crisis until we solve the public health crisis.” It cites immediate measures to fund essential workers, extend COVID crisis unemployment insurance, deliver a “comeback package” for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and put people to work in a Public Health Jobs Corps as the necessary first steps to stabilizing and building our economy.

After that, the plan identifies four “bold, national efforts” that will be needed to address the country’s economic challenges. One of them sets out to mobilize American ingenuity to “build a modern infrastructure and an equitable, clean energy future”.

“We’ve seen the need for a more resilient economy for the long-term,” the plan states, “and that means investing in a modern, sustainable infrastructure and sustainable engines of growth—from roads and bridges, to energy grids and schools, to universal broadband.”

As a long-time fan of Amtrak, Biden is expected to support new funding for rail networks, transit, and micro-mobility. His plan “also focuses on ensuring that public infrastructure projects can withstand additional pressure from weather events linked to climate change, such as storms, floods, extreme heat, wildfires and sea level rise,” Law 360 reports.

"This is what makes his approach unique,” said Rodney E. Slater, a former transportation secretary. “He’s acknowledging the system in the future as we modernize it has to be a system that is resilient."

One more item in the “known” category: House Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman Pete DeFazio (D-OR) won re-election in his district, and while the final seat count is still taking shape, Democrats have retained control of the House of Representatives. So it’s considered likely that DeFazio will keep his hand on the committee gavel.

The unknowns

The biggest question has to do with a divided government, and the prospects for better cooperation between the White House and Congress than the country has seen over the last dozen or so years. In the more than 40 years that he’s spent in Washington, DC, 36 of them in the Senate, Biden crafted a reputation for working across the partisan divide and reconciling divergent interests, firm in the belief that moderate progress is still progress.

So if control of the Senate does remain with the Republicans, anyone involved with highways or infrastructure will be hoping that Biden and his former Senate colleague, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), can come to a common understanding of how strategic investment helps move America forward.

That understanding might take some time to develop and mature, as protagonists on both sides move past the emotion and adrenaline of a hard-fought campaign. In the meantime, as the country has seen in recent administrations, the awesome power of the presidency gives the occupant of the Oval Office the power to move boldly through executive orders that do not require Congressional approval.

All of which means Washington, DC will be an unusually busy place as the Biden-Harris agenda begins to unfold. It’s never been more important for the tolling and user financing community to have a voice and a seat at the table as the next generation of federal policy takes shape.

IBTTA is your voice in Washington, DC as a new era of transportation decision-making begins. Keep your seat at the table by renewing your membership today!

Newsletter publish date: 
Tuesday, November 10, 2020 - 09:00

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