UPDATE: Infrastructure bill Could mean new bridge across Ohio River

UPDATE POSTED AT 1 A.M. WEDNESDAY AUG. 11, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s Republican senators split their votes Tuesday on a Senate-approved $1 trillion infrastructure plan, with Mitch McConnell supporting the measure and Rand Paul opposing it.

McConnell, the top-ranking Senate Republican, said the measure shows “both sides of the political aisle can still come together around commonsense solutions.” It would deliver at least $5.1 billion over several years for work on Kentucky roads and bridges, he said.

“This is an important achievement for Kentucky and the American people,” McConnell said. “Communities all across the commonwealth will benefit from this bill. … Through today’s actions, we will be more competitive on the global stage and primed for broad-based economic growth.”

The 69-30 Senate vote sends the measure, backed by President Joe Biden, to the House.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear praised the Senate action and said the measure, if it becomes law, could become a key funding driver for a mega-bridge project connecting Kentucky and Ohio.

Meanwhile, Paul agreed the state has “real infrastructure needs,” but said the measure “is not just about roads and bridges and clean water, it’s step one of the `Green New Deal.’”

“The plan also adds at least $250 billion in new debt,” Paul said in a statement. “Instead of bringing down soaring gas prices, it will push them even higher along with the price of food and other necessities soaring from inflation. This is not the plan Kentucky families need.”

McConnell said the measure would deliver “critical federal resources” to help update highways, bridges and airports, extend broadband and provide clean drinking water to more Kentuckians.

Kentucky also could compete for grant money to help finance major bridge and roads projects.

That could give Kentucky another funding option in long-discussed efforts to build a new bridge across the Ohio River between northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. The outdated, heavily traveled Brent Spence Bridge at that crossing has long been a national symbol for advocates pushing for a massive infusion of new federal spending on infrastructure.

Beshear said Tuesday he thinks that project would “absolutely qualify” for the competitive funding.

“And provided that is the case, we can pay for our portion of it in cash,” the governor said at a news conference. “No tolls. We can make it happen for a community that has been waiting for so long.”

Also by doing so, more funding would be freed up for crucial transportation projects in western and eastern Kentucky, the governor said.

UPDATE POSTED AT 12:38 P.M. TUESDAY AUG. 10, 2021

WASHINGTON (WTVQ/Press Release/AP) – Kentucky’s Republican senators split their votes Tuesday on a Senate-approved $1 trillion infrastructure plan, with Mitch McConnell supporting the measure and Rand Paul opposing it.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear praised the Senate action and said the measure, if it becomes law, could become a key funding driver for a mega-bridge project connecting Kentucky and Ohio.

Meanwhile, Paul agreed the state has “real infrastructure needs,” but said the measure “is not just about roads and bridges and clean water, it’s step one of the `Green New Deal.’”

“The plan also adds at least $250 billion in new debt,” Paul said in a statement. “Instead of bringing down soaring gas prices, it will push them even higher along with the price of food and other necessities soaring from inflation. This is not the plan Kentucky families need.”

The passage of The Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in the Senate includes a few infrastructure priorities for the Commonwealth.

“I was proud to support today’s historic bipartisan infrastructure deal and prove that both sides of the political aisle can still come together around commonsense solutions. By promoting sensible, collaborative legislation, we have shown that the Senate still works as an institution. This is an important achievement for Kentucky and the American people,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Beshear said Tuesday he thinks the Brent Spence bridge project would “absolutely qualify” for the competitive funding.

“And provided that is the case, we can pay for our portion of it in cash,” the governor said at a news conference. “No tolls. We can make it happen for a community that has been waiting for so long.”

Also by doing so, more funding would be freed up for crucial transportation projects in western and eastern Kentucky, the governor said.

The infrastructure upgrades for Kentucky include the following:

  • Designates the Louie B. Nunn Cumberland Expressway as an I-65 interstate spur. By designating the expressway as a spur of I-65, the expressway would be eligible for federal assistance. The designation maintains the existing weight limit to continue the use of agriculture vehicles on the roadway. Senator McConnell and Congressmen Hal Rogers and James Comer have long advocated for this designation. Opening the Cumberland Expressway to federal resources can boost investment and economic development opportunities across this region.
  • Provides critical funding to states for roads, highways and bridges. Kentucky would receive $4.6 billion over 5 years for its infrastructure needs. The historic investment in Kentucky’s roads, highways and bridges will provide the state with certainty to plan road projects. In addition to this funding, Kentucky would also receive $438 million in direct bridge funding for state to further invest in the rehabilitation, repair and replacement of bridges.
  • Includes several competitive grant programs that states may apply for to help fund major bridge and road projects, giving Kentucky the opportunity to address projects like the Brent Spence and I-69 bridges.
    • $12.5 billion in competitive grants for bridge projects. For bridges of regional significance with total costs of greater than $100 million, grant awards would be at least $50 million.
    • $5 billion for the brand new National Infrastructure Project Assistance grant program. Supports multi-modal, multi-jurisdictional projects, like the Brent Spence Corridor project.
    • $7.5 billion for the RAISE (formerly BUILD) grant program. This competitive grant program funds surface transportation projects of local and regional significance.
    • $3.2 billion for the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program. These competitive funds support highway and rail projects that are deemed regionally and nationally significant.
  • Helps Kentucky complete its Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS) corridors. Kentucky will receive $69 million of the $1.25 billion dedicated to this program. The state could also apply for funding from a $2 billion new Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program that reserves at least 25% of funding for projects to complete the ADHS, which helps spur economic development in Appalachia.
  • Provides $391 million for Kentucky’s public transportation priorities.
  • $25 billion for airport infrastructure improvements. The majority of the funding will be distributed by a formula, so Kentucky airports are guaranteed to receive funding.
  • $11.2 billion for Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund. Kentucky ranks third among all states with abandoned mine land reclamation needs and would receive a portion of these funds.
  • $1.5 billion for Brownfield Site Land Revitalization. Kentucky, which has over 8,000 brownfield sites, is eligible to apply for funds via a competitive federal grant program.
  • $65 billion for broadband deployment and improvement – Kentucky will be eligible to receive a portion of this funding:
    • Including funding from the $2 billion provided to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for programs like the ReConnect Program, which provides loans and grants to fund the construction, acquisition or improvement of facilities and equipment that provide broadband service in rural areas. Kentucky communities and organizations are eligible for this funding through the competitive federal grant program.
    • Kentucky also will receive at a minimum, $100 million for broadband deployment through a new grant program administered by United States Department of Commerce to expand broadband to unserved and underserved areas
  • Authorizes $4.7 billion for Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells –  Kentucky has the fourth most abandoned well sites in the United States, with more than 14,000 total in nearly every county. Kentucky is eligible to receive a portion of these funds through a competitive federal grant program.
  • $1.6 billion for Dam Safety Removal through existing FEMA, NOAA, Army Corps, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. Kentucky has benefitted from these programs in the past and they could provide benefit Lock and Dam #1 on the Barren River.
  • Authorizes up to $418 million to Kentucky’s clean and drinking water programs. Over 5 years, Kentucky may receive up to:
    • $235 million through the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund.
    • $182 million through the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund.
  • $1 billion to Appalachian Regional Commission, which will benefit many counties in Eastern Kentucky.
  • Kentucky will benefit from the $1 billion State and Local Cybersecurity Grant Program to increase investment in cybersecurity for critical infrastructure.

Sen. McConnell also said, “Communities all across the Commonwealth will benefit from this bill, which will provide critical federal resources to assist the state in updating our highways, bridges, airports, broadband, and clean drinking water. Through today’s actions, we will be more competitive on the global stage and primed for broad-based economic growth.”

UPDATE POSTED 11:45 A.M. TUESDAY, AUG. 10, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – With a robust vote after weeks of fits and starts, the Senate approved a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan on Tuesday, a rare coalition of Democrats and Republicans joining to overcome skeptics and deliver a cornerstone of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

The 69-30 tally provides momentum for this first phase of Biden’s “Build Back Better” priorities, now headed to the House. A sizable number of lawmakers showed they were willing to set aside partisan pressures, eager to send billions to their states for rebuilding roads, broadband internet, water pipes and the public works systems that underpin much of American life.

Infrastructure was once a mainstay of lawmaking, but the weeks-long slog to strike a compromise showed how hard it has become for Congress to tackle routine legislating, even on shared priorities.

“There’s been detours and everything else, but this will do a whole lot of good for America,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The outline for Biden’s bigger $3.5 trillion package is next up for the Senate — a more liberal undertaking of child care, elder care and other programs that is much more partisan and expected to draw only Democratic support. That debate is expected to extend into the fall.

Tuesday’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act started with a group of 10 senators who seized on Biden’s campaign promise to draft a scaled-down version of his initial $2.3 trillion proposal, one that could more broadly appeal to both parties in the narrowly divided Congress, especially the 50-50 Senate.

It swelled to a 2,700-page bill backed by the president and also business, labor and farm interests. It drew an expansive alliance of senators and a bipartisan group in the House.

In all, 19 Republicans joined all Democrats in voting for Senate passage. Vice President Kamala Harris, as presiding officer, announced the final tally.

While liberal lawmakers said the package doesn’t go far enough as a down-payment on Biden’s priorities and conservatives said it is too costly and should be more fully paid for, the coalition of centrist senators was able to hold. Even a barrage of broadsides from former President Donald Trump could not bring the bill down.

“This infrastructure bill is not the perfect bill,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, one of the negotiators. She said the senators kept at it, believing, “It’s better to get some of what our constituents want rather than none of it.”

The measure proposes nearly $550 billion in new spending over five years in addition to current federal authorizations for public works that will reach virtually every corner of the country — a potentially historic expenditure Biden has put on par with the building of the transcontinental railroad or interstate highway system.

There’s money to rebuild roads and bridges, and also to shore up coastlines against climate change, protect public utility systems from cyberattacks and modernize the electric grid. Public transit gets a boost, as do airports and freight rail. Most lead drinking water pipes in America could be replaced.

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the lead Republican negotiator, said the proposals have been talked about for years, yet never seem to get done, including for a bridge across the Ohio River between his state and Kentucky.

“We’ll be getting it right for the American people,” he said.

The top Democratic negotiator, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, said rarely will a piece of legislation affect so many Americans. She gave a nod to the late fellow Arizona Sen. John McCain and said she was trying to follow his example to “reach bipartisan agreements that try to bring the country together.”

Drafted during the COVID-19 crisis, the bill would provide $65 billion for broadband, a provision Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, negotiated because she said the coronavirus pandemic showed that such service “is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity.” States will receive money to expand broadband and make it more affordable.

Despite the momentum, action slowed last weekend when Sen. Bill Hagerty, a Tennessee Republican allied with Trump, refused to speed up the process.

Trump had called his one-time Japan ambassador and cheered him on, but it’s unclear if the former president’s views still carry as much sway with most senators. Trump issued fresh complaints hours before Tuesday’s vote. He had tried and failed to pass his own infrastructure bill during his time in the White House.

Other Republican senators objected to the size, scope and financing of the package, particularly concerned after the Congressional Budget Office said it would add $256 billion to deficits over the decade.

Two Republicans, Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Todd Young of Indiana, had been part of initial negotiations shaping the package but ultimately opposed it.

“My efforts to reach a compromise were honest & sincere, & unfortunately, we were unable to arrive at a bill I could support,” Moran said in a tweet.

Rather than pressure his colleagues, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has stayed behind the scenes for much of the bipartisan work. He allowed the voting to proceed, and may benefit from enabling this package in a stroke of bipartisanship while trying to stop Biden’s next big effort. He voted for passage on Tuesday.

Unlike the $3.5 trillion second package, which would be paid for by higher tax rates for corporations and the wealthy, the bipartisan package is to be funded by repurposing other money, including some COVID-19 aid.

The bill’s backers argue that the budget office’s analysis was unable to take into account certain revenue streams that will help offset its costs — including from future economic growth.

Senators have spent the past week processing nearly two dozen amendments, but none substantially changed its framework.

The House is expected to consider both Biden infrastructure packages together, but centrist lawmakers urged Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring the bipartisan plan forward quickly, and they raised concerns about the bigger bill, in a sign of the complicated politics still ahead.

ORIGINAL STORY POSTED 7 A.M. AUG. 10, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate is on track to give final approval to its $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan.

A growing coalition of Democrats and Republicans is preparing to lift the first phase of President Joe Biden’s rebuilding agenda to passage.

Final Senate votes are expected around midday Tuesday, with passage sending the bill to the House.

All told, some 70 senators appear poised to vote for the package. After that, the Senate will immediately launch votes on Biden’s next package, the $3.5 trillion plan that is a more strictly Democratic undertaking. That will begin a debate that will extend into fall.

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