If you look around our communities, it’s not uncommon to find roads, bridges, and other infrastructure in need of serious repair. And as one of the fastest growing states in the country, Utah also needs additional infrastructure. For years – even decades – elected officials have argued that we need to turn our attention to our country’s aging infrastructure. However, various challenges and disagreements have resulted in little progress.
When President Joe Biden first took office, he proposed an infrastructure plan that would cost nearly $ 2 trillion – an unprecedented demand in terms of both the amount of spending and the types of projects he was going to fund. Republicans unanimously refused to commit to multi-trillion dollar spending, tax hikes, huge deficits, and expanded welfare programs.
For several months now, I’ve been working with a group of colleagues to see if we can agree on a bipartisan way forward. It was pretty clear that if the Democrats wrote their own party law, Utah would have the short end of the bar.
As a result of the work of our group, Senate Republicans and Democrats have agreed on a proposal that is strictly limited to physical infrastructure. It doesn’t collect taxes. It spends less than a third of the president’s original plan. And because it consists largely of legislation that has already gone through the traditional legislative process with bipartisan support in the judiciary committees, it is truly bipartisan.
The White House has approved our bipartisan plan.
It is estimated that 62 bridges and more than 2,064 miles of freeway in Utah are in poor condition. Under our plan, Utah would receive significant funding to repair these deteriorating roads, bridges, and highways. Right now, Utah residents are forced to only use roads to commute from Salt Lake City to the west side of the valley because of the lack of freeway infrastructure. In addition to funding for necessary repairs, Utah would also receive funding to expand our infrastructure so we can keep pace with our rapid growth.
The bipartisan plan would also invest in Utah’s public transportation systems and help clear some of the traffic on our roads. This is especially important along the Wasatch front, where air quality is a critical concern. It would also help modernize the nearly 17% of public transportation in our state that is on its last legs. As of now, my Smart Intersections Act – legislation to reduce traffic congestion by modernizing traffic lights – will also be included in this bipartisan package.
Our plan does not ignore the threats to infrastructure from climate change. We in Utah are seeing firsthand the impact the historic drought, combined with poor federal forestry, is having on our land. So far this year, more than 500 forest fires have burned nearly 60,000 acres in our state. The bipartisan package would give Utah more funding for critical programs that improve our ability to manage and contain wildfires and other extreme weather events.
The American West is getting drier. Our plan would increase funding for Utah’s water storage and distribution projects and help improve our state’s drinking and wastewater infrastructure. In addition, the Utah Navajo Water Rights Settlement legislation to provide full funding to the 40% of Utah Navajos who lack running water would receive full funding.
Our package would allocate more resources to complement the good work being done to expand Utah’s broadband infrastructure and provide families with affordable, fast, and reliable internet. These efforts are especially important to the many rural parts of our state – counties like San Juan, Piute, Millard, and Wayne – where Utah residents do not have adequate internet access.
Utahns, like most other Americans, are concerned about our growing deficit and don’t want to see massive tax hikes. Because of this, I’ve fought to have much of our plan paid for through the reallocation of federal COVID-19 stimulus funds. In addition, our plan creates an infrastructure finance agency that incentivizes public-private partnerships to fund long-term infrastructure projects, which would reduce the ongoing need for federal funding to fund future community projects.
Neither “side” got everything it wanted. But this is how our country – and Congress – must work to go beyond rhetoric to actually achieve things for our communities. In negotiating this plan, we showed the Americans that we can still work together in the Senate to find common ground.
On our return to Washington this week, I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to build support for our plan. Finally, when this bill hits the President’s desk, I will take him at his word that he will sign it without contingency.
Mitt Romney, a Republican, is the junior senator from Utah.