President Biden, in Kansas City, declares time has come for ‘action’ on infrastructure

·6 min read

President Joe Biden promoted a new $1.2 trillion federal law in Kansas City on Wednesday that his administration hopes will prove transformational in reinforcing and advancing the nation’s aging infrastructure.

The infrastructure law marks “the most significant investment” in roads and bridges in 70 years, Biden said.

“No more talking. Action,” Biden said.

Biden’s visit to Kansas City, the first of his presidency, comes as local leaders are hopeful about the infrastructure law’s power to make a significant difference when it comes to the area’s highways, bridges, public transit and water systems. Kansas and Missouri are slated to ultimately receive $3.2 billion and $7.9 billion, respectively.

Biden, who arrived aboard Air Force One at Kansas City International Airport, was greeted by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican who has emphasized infrastructure and signed into law the state’s first gas tax increase in decades, and Mayor Quinton Lucas, a vocal proponent of the new federal law who attended the White House signing ceremony.

It will take years for the region to feel the full impact of the new federal funding, as major projects take time to implement. Still, officials have identified an array of possibilities for the money, from the future of the Buck O’Neil Memorial Bridge downtown to a future east-west streetcar line. Already, Kansas transportation leaders have said money from the law will aid the reconstruction of the 167th Street interchange on U.S. 69 in Overland Park.

The White House on Wednesday launched www.build.gov, which will operate as a clearinghouse of sorts for information about the new law. White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the site would provide a hub for governors, mayors, tribal owners business owners, union members and Americans generally to learn more about the law and how to access resources for their communities.

Biden spoke in a chilly bus barn to an audience of local dignitaries, transportation workers and reporters, flanked by large signs emblazoned with “Building A Better America.” Before the speech, Biden praised Kansas City’s electric buses during a briefing with transit officials and employees at a nearby body shop.

“They’re something else,” he said.

Kansas City has been adding electric buses to its fleet. The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority already committed years ago to passing a resolution to replace diesel vehicles with compressed natural gas buses in an effort to reduce emissions.

Since early 2020, Kansas City’s bus system has also been operating fare free — the first major metropolitan city to make its buses completely free.

Biden is aggressively promoting the new infrastructure law amid flagging approval figures and as congressional Democrats prepare for what’s expected to be a tough mid-term election year. The party that controls the White House often suffers losses in Congress in mid-term elections, but Democrats hold the House and Senate by only the slimmest of margins.

Republicans need to flip fewer than 10 seats to take back the House. In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans are evenly divided, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes in favor of Democrats.

Both Kansas City-area Democratic representatives supported the infrastructure bill. Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids has been an especially vocal champion of the law, and is expected to face a competitive race against Republican businesswoman Amanda Adkins in a rematch of the 2020 election. Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver has firm support from his district, though some Republicans have spoken about attempting to redraw his district to make it more competitive.

The two representatives traveled from Washington to Kansas City for the Biden event aboard Air Force One.

“I believe Kansas City and the broader Midwest are the perfect venues to emphasize the benefits hardworking families are going to see from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. It’s the working class who will benefit from safer roads, cleaner drinking water, better broadband, and, of course, good paying-jobs — and that’s why I was so proud to support the bill,” Cleaver said in a statement.

The Environmental Protection Agency has already announced Missouri is set to receive $147 million and Kansas $79 million next year to improve water infrastructure.

Cleaver’s office has said in Missouri the money will help to remove lead service lines from schools, households and public buildings throughout the state. In Kansas, a report produced by Davids’ office has said priority projects in her district include the Indian Creek Nall Hills Flood Risk Reduction Project in Overland Park and Wyandotte County stormwater treatment facilities in need of immediate maintenance.

“These are the things our country needs so we can move on, so we can make progress,” Davids said.

The bipartisan law divided Kansas and Missouri’s congressional delegations. Sen. Roy Blunt, who is retiring, voted for the bill, but every other Missouri Republican voted against it, along with Democratic Rep. Cori Bush. No Kansas Republicans voted for the measure.

Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, decried the bill even as he said he hoped Missouri received money under it. “It’s a terrible bill that is full of just outrageous pork barrel spending and the far left agenda including canceling energy jobs,” Hawley said.

In Kansas City, Lucas has said projects that could receive help under the infrastructure law include fixing bridges, building a solar farm at Kansas City International airport, and expanding the KC Streetcar to the east and west. City spokeswoman Maggie Green said the city has not made a final priority list for projects it will pursue as it waits on federal guidelines for the infrastructure bill.

“It’s an honor to have the president of the United States come and spend real time with the people of Kansas City, union workers, those who are in the infrastructure sphere, and maybe even a few elected officials,” Lucas said ahead of the visit.

Even as few specific projects have been set, both Missouri and Kansas have better ideas about the kinds of funding they will receive.

Kansas is set to receive $2.6 billion to repair highways over the next five years, just shy of the $3 billion the state spent over the last decade to preserve roads through the T-Works project. Missouri will get $6.5 billion for roads over the next five years. In the 2019 fiscal year, Missouri’s Department of Transportation spent $1.5 billion on roads and bridges.

The law also allocates money to fix the 1,321 miles of bridges in poor condition in Kansas and the 2,190 miles in Missouri. Kansas and Missouri will get $225 million and $484 million respectively over the next five years.

Both states will be able to apply for additional funding for specific projects through a $12.5 billion fund to fix important bridges and a $16 billion fund for road projects that spur economic development. The law also includes $100 million for Kansas and Missouri each to expand broadband infrastructure.

Missouri is slated to get $674 million to improve public transportation over the next five years, while Kansas is allocated $272 million. For water infrastructure improvements, Kansas is expected to get $454 million over four years and Missouri is expected to get $866 million over five years.

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