WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration has started 40,000 construction projects since the passage of major infrastructure legislation two years ago and is seeking to make the case that continued progress could depend on keeping Joe Biden in the White House after 2024.
Biden has long emphasized the bipartisan appeal of the $1 trillion investment, with governors, mayors and county officials. His administration says getting that money out the door has required the hiring of 6,100 federal officials and meant a new degree of cooperation across governments that the outcome of next year’s presidential election could put at risk.
White House infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu said the occupant of the Oval Office increasingly matters. Some leading Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, opposed the law or now want to cut money for infrastructure services.
“This whole thing could get thrown out of the window if somebody else was sitting over there and decides, ‘We don’t want to do it,'” Landrieu said in an interview.
Projects being planned or already underway affect 4,500-plus communities in every state and the nation’s capital. That includes bringing access to free or discounted high-speech internet service to more than 21 million low-income households, making improvements to 135,800 miles of roads, repairing 7,800 bridges and providing nearly 3,000 low and zero-emission buses.
There are almost 450 port and waterway projects and 190 to improve airport terminals.
In the interview and during a subsequent briefing Thursday with reporters, Landrieu said officials hope to have much of the work completed within the next three years to seven years. He said 90% of the money is being spent by governors and mayors, and that nearly all officials had accepted funding regardless of political party.
Landrieu said it was “the most massive transformation in public infrastructure rebuild that we’ve seen in the history of the country.” He cited the cleanup of the Great Lakes, the modernization of Pennsylvania’s Montgomery Locks and Dam, and the upgrade of Terminal E at Boston’s Logan International Airport.
Landrieu was careful not to comment on the presidential race. A federal law known as the Hatch Act restricts partisan political activity by federal employees.
Still, as an example of the political implications, Landrieu pointed to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who was reelected Tuesday in an increasingly Republican state and during his victory speech mentioned the federal dollars revitalize the bridge linking Cincinnati and the northern part of his state.
Landrieu’s warning gets at the election’s hidden stakes and whether the Biden administration can fulfill its economic ambitions long into the future. Consider the Baltimore rail tunnel he promoted on Monday and the Hudson Tunnel bringing rail passengers into New York City; both are scheduled to open in 2035.
Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, has disparaged the infrastructure package and Republicans lawmakers who backed it. Biden has joked about Trump holding “infrastructure week” events during his presidency but never managing to sign an infrastructure law.
“This is something that all of us experience every day,” White House chief of staff Jeff Zients said. “We go to the airport, get on Amtrak, hear about lead pipes in communities … kids going to McDonalds parking lots to get internet access.”
Biden argues that the public works projects and other legislative accomplishments show how Washington can improve the daily lives of people in the United States. Like Trump, however, many other Republicans vying for their party’s 2024 presidential nomination say the White House’s policies have actually hurt the economy.
“I’m going to take all the executive orders, the regulations, everything involving Bidenomics, I’m going to rip it up and I’m going to throw it in the trash can where it belongs,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday during the latest GOP primary debate.
House Republicans have proposed cutting $1 billion from Amtrak passenger rail service and other transit money, arguing that federal deficit reduction and low taxes should take priority. But they pulled a transportation funding vote this week after some in the party opposed the rail cuts.
Landrieu said projects already underway have helped spur about $615 billion in private sector manufacturing and clean energy investments nationwide. He said that and work being completed in coming years could help turn polls that suggest the public is not pleased with Biden’s handling of the economy.
“It takes a long time for things to manifest themselves, and if people can’t physically see them, why would you expect them to?” he said.
To sell the infrastructure program, the former New Orleans mayor said he’d visited 130 communities around the country and traveled 110,000 miles, including visiting an Alaska tribal community by boat. Biden and his Cabinet members had taken over 400 combined trips, Landrieu added.
In the interview, Landrieu recalled bringing back staff over a holiday so they could call governors who had not applied for money to plug orphaned oil and natural gas wells.
“You don’t buy this lottery ticket, you can’t win the lottery,” he recalled saying at the time.