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Five Potentially Overlooked Pieces of the Infrastructure Bill

Much attention has been given to the billions the bill will put toward bridges, cybersecurity and more. But behind the big-ticket items are many small projects. Here are some that will impact state and local government.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) — the $1.2 trillion package passed late last year with bipartisan support — contained a lot of big-ticket items that have made headlines and sparked hope for big improvements to the country’s infrastructure.

But behind those big programs, there were many, many, many smaller initiatives that will spark all kinds of activity. Some of them represent support from the federal government for ideas that have been gaining steam for years or even decades. And in the future, some of them might serve as the launching point for much bigger things.

Here are five important but under-discussed provisions of the IIJA that many in state and local government might have missed:

1. A National Road-Use Charge Pilot Program


As electric vehicles steadily make their way into the American mainstream, the use of gas tax money to fund roads is beginning to appear more and more perilous. So states have been working for years on pilot projects to test another way of raising money for roads: The road-use charge.

The concept is simply to charge drivers based on how much they’re driving rather than the amount of fuel they use. And while the federal government has put up funds for these state pilot projects before, it appears that the infrastructure bill has created the first national attempt to pilot test the road-use charge.

As part of the pilot project, the U.S. Department of Transportation will seek volunteers from all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. It will also convene an advisory board made up of stakeholders and experts and can explore various options for tracking mileage such as in-vehicle data, devices that plug into the standard OBD-II port and mobile apps.

2. Gathering Data on Transportation Access


The nation’s roadways were largely built with cars in mind, which throughout the 20th century meant that neighborhoods were split apart and big, pedestrian-unfriendly deserts were erected in the hearts of cities. Coupled with anemic transit systems in many areas, low-income people are often left without good options for getting to jobs, grocery stores, hospitals and other necessities.

One provision in the IIJA sets up a pilot program within the Department of Transportation to work with states and regional or metropolitan planning organizations to study the issue. Specifically, it calls on the department to work on collecting data to help identify how people in the studied areas get to the things they need. When it comes to infrastructure priorities, this kind of work could mean shifting the conversation from car-focused searches for bottlenecks to mobility-focused searches for public need.

Notably, the act specifies that the methodology used to determine accessibility must be open source.

The department has two years to give a report to Congress on the program, including an assessment of whether it might be feasible to more regularly collect that kind of accessibility data for locations across the country.

3. Pouring Data into Water


There are about 145,000 public water systems in the U.S., and of those, almost all of them are small — meaning they tend not to have large budgets with which to purchase the latest technology to help identify which parts of their systems need work.

But the first section of the infrastructure bill mentioned here creates a program with $50 million available each year through 2026 to help them make those purchases. The grants, specifically set aside for systems serving fewer than 10,000 people, can be used to deploy asset management software, GIS, leak detection, meters and other items.

The second section then seeks to make use of all the data water utilities big and small are collecting with this new technology. That grant program will support efforts to help utilities share information with each other about water quality, new cybersecurity systems and other technology.

4. Stormwater Centers of Excellence


As climate change increases the risk of urban flooding in many parts of the country, the infrastructure that efficiently handles stormwater is becoming more important. This provision of the bill calls for the creation of between three and five new centers of excellence at higher education institutions, nonprofits or research institutes to act as leaders studying that infrastructure.

It also sets aside $10 million each year through 2026 in grant money to turn that research into action with both development and implementation grants.

5. Researching Wildfire Management Technology


A new commission, created jointly by the Interior, Agriculture and Homeland Security departments, will be charged with studying ways to manage the wildfires that have become more and more destructive in recent years.

Under this section, part of the commission’s work will be reporting to Congress what kinds of policy it should be pursuing when it comes to new technology that can help prevent and mitigate the damage from those fires. That includes satellites, drones and remote sensors.

Government Technology is a sister site to Governing. Both are divisions of e.Republic.
Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.
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