The 2,700-page, five-year Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also called the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), is broad in scope and complex. So, while there are things we know about the transportation components of the measure and its opportunities for Wisconsin, there are an equal number of things we don’t know at this time.
What We Know:
- The measure will provide the most significant increase in federal highway, bridge, and public transportation investment in more than 50 years. In Wisconsin, this means the state will receive additional federal formula funds each year over the next five years. We are looking at annual amounts of about $200 million in highway funds, $45 million specifically for bridges, and $30 million for public transportation. These numbers are large, but keep in mind the state of Wisconsin’s annual transportation budget is roughly $3.5 billion.
- The IIJA also includes money for ports, airports, and rail investments. See the articles on the About TIME website highlighting recent announcements for ports and airports.
- In addition to the surface transportation — highway, bridge, public transportation, and safety — formula programs, the legislation includes many new and existing discretionary grant programs that could benefit Wisconsin communities.
What We Don’t Know:
- While there has been a lot of talk about the passage of the IIJA, we don’t know when all the first year’s money will be available for use. Much of the transportation money — specifically the surface programs — needs further congressional action to start flowing. The federal government has been operating under a series of continuing resolutions (CR) since the start of the fiscal year last Oct. 1. The CR means the federal government and programs are being funded at fiscal year 2021 levels, delaying many of the federal infrastructure law increases. The current CR expires Feb. 18, with Congress working to pass an extension through March 11 to allow time to finalize the full-year appropriations.
- The details for new programs will likely be held up because of the CR. The CR prohibits funds to be “used to initiate or resume any project or activity for which appropriations, funds, or other authority were not available during fiscal year 2021.” USDOT lawyers have interpreted this standard language to include staff time.
- And we don’t know how the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) will propose to spend the additional federal funds it receives. Under state statute, WisDOT must present a plan for the approval of our legislature’s Joint Finance committee any time expected federal funding is more than five percent above or below the amount budgeted. This plan could come at any time, but certainly shortly after Congress passes full-year 2022 appropriations.
The biggest thing we know is these additional dollars will help Wisconsin make progress on some key objectives. However, these funds alone will not enable the state or local governments to tackle all of our transportation system’s pressing needs.