It’s a $1.2 trillion home makeover that will impact every home in the United States. The new, massive infrastructure spending bill passed by Congress will reach every corner of the country.
“This is the largest investment that we’ve ever made in the transportation system,” says Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt, who sat down exclusively with WRAL Investigates’ Cullen Browder.
Bhatt’s role has a “Santa Claus” element right now. On Thursday, he delivered a $110 million grant to help build a state-of-the-art replacement for the Alligator River Bridge on U.S. Highway 64 in eastern North Carolina.
“If we’re going to spend $1.2 trillion as a country on infrastructure that tide lifts all boats,” Bhatt said about the infrastructure plan.
The record spending flows far beyond roads and bridges. Infrastructure money will provide needed broadband and water treatment to communities, improve transit services and airports and invest in electric vehicle charging and battery technology.
Bhatt tells WRAL News that it’s already having an impact. “It’s actually transforming the North Carolina economy right now,” he said.
While many argue the infusion of money is long overdue, others question the spending at a time when the country is piling on the debt. Bhatt sees it differently, “Even Libertarians would say that this is an issue that the government should be investing in. So, for me I don’t view this as government spending. I view this as government investment.”
Bhatt says the money will support thousands of construction jobs and speed up project completion times. Still, he says, transformation won’t be immediate, “I would ask everyone in North Carolina to be patient, because there are barrels out there now. There are going to be more barrels. So within the next year or two you’re going to start seeing the fruits of that labor,” he said.
Bhatt also discussed how states can change their spending habits. For decades, states like North Carolina relied on the gas tax to help fund infrastructure. Bhatt warns that model no longer works as more drivers choose electric vehicles. So, North Carolina is exploring other options, like the more you drive, the more you pay. North Carolina is part of an ongoing pilot project in which drivers volunteered to see how they’d pay per mile driven, versus the gas tax we all pay at the pump. The results of that multi-state study have not been released.