In early November, President Biden signed a $1 trillion bill to repair and modernize the nation’s infrastructure. Termed the Build Back Better act, this bill is a part of Biden’s revival effort, spoke about extensively in campaign efforts.
The money will be allocated to states to increase the nature of infrastructure around the nation. Prioritizations include improving access to broadband internet, replacing hazardous lead drinking pipes, increasing electric vehicle manufacturers, and more. There is further allocation for rebuilding bridges, roads, freight and passenger rail systems, and cleaning environmental pollution. Rather than an immediate economic boost, the bill is meant to provide the means to create a better infrastructure for the nation, which is expected to boost economic stability in the long-term.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, stated that his agency will use $1 billion from the bill to work on legislation to remedy racial inequities in U.S. highway design. This includes roads and highways that were designed to keep minorities out of white neighborhoods.
Buttigieg said, “If an underpass was constructed such that a bus carrying mostly Black and Puerto Rican kids to a beach, […] in New York was designed too low for it to pass by, than that obviously reflects racism that went into those design choices.”
Although the infrastructure bill represents a promise to rebuild the crumbling nature of the infrastructure in the US, the decision on how to spend the money allocated for these projects falls to the states themselves. Acting assistant secretary in the Transportation Department during Obama’s administration, Beth Osborne says to the NYTimes, “It’s hard to have a national approach when the decisions are made state by state.”
Although the national bill has a goal to repair damages from the US’ history with racial disparities in public infrastructure, most states and local officials will have to prioritize this goal for the change to occur. For the public transportation infrastructure, $660 billion will be provided to the Transportation Department, the bulk of which will be distributed to states. There are further concerns locally that increasing the state of infrastructure in low-income areas will serve only to displace the population in the area, leading to gentrification.
The bill further will allocate around $11 billion in funding for native communities across the country. Lack of clean water, crumbling roads, and lack of access to internet are some of the problems that have plagued native communities for dozens of years. Although there are hopes that the infrastructure bill will be able to help infrastructure in native communities, there are also concerns that public infrastructure may be built across native land, displacing even more natives.
Overall, the Build Back Better act stands as an opportunity to fix the infrastructure of the United States, to overall improve the state of roads, highways, and bridges, but to also address symptoms of racial inequalities that have continued to plague the American infrastructure.