USA: governors on the hunt for infrastructure funding

From New Jersey to Minnesota, U.S. state governors unveil their plans to stimulate the economy with infrastructure spending

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy will be at the front of the line, and with a long list, at the stroke of noon on January 20, 2021, when the Twentieth Amendment of the United States Constitution calls for the handover of presidential power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. Governor Murphy put infrastructure at the centre of his election campaign for a second term, so much so that on November 17, in the middle of the second wave of the pandemic, he announced a “to-do” list of projects aimed at relaunching New Jersey’s economy.

First and foremost will be the replacement of the Chestnut Street Bridge on Route 22, and a new $500 million vertical lifting bridge over the Hackensack River to replace the Route 7-Wittpenn Bridge system. Lastly, there’s the resurfacing of Route 27. For the announcement, Murphy chose the Port of Newark, which with New York is the second-largest port of call in the United States after the Los Angeles-Long Beach system. It was from Newark, Murphy recalled, that the word’s first container ship, the Ideal X, officially launched maritime globalization in 1956.

“I’m thrilled that these critical projects will further enhance regional operations and contribute to a stronger, more modern infrastructure that will both deliver safer roads and bridges as well as fuel our state’s economic recovery — not just as we work toward the end of the pandemic, but for decades to come,” the governor said, at a socially-distanced press conference. “In doing so, the jobs here at the Port, and the jobs created by the infrastructure projects around us will help ensure a stronger, fairer, and more resilient post-COVID economy.”

Murphy, however, did not mention the project he cares most about — the Gateway Programme, a plan to fix aging tunnels and build new ones under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey. It has been halted amid delays, cost overruns (with a price tag soaring to $12 billion), environmental impact and political disputes (promoted by the Obama administration, rejected by Trump).

U.S. states looking for new infastructure investment plans

While awaiting the presidential transition, the states are eying the amount of funds available, and are pushing ahead with expenditure plans. They certainly need it. New Jersey, according to a list compiled by the 24/7 Wall St. website, and reprinted by USA Today on November 11, is the state with the nation’s most dilapidated and dangerous infrastructure. The study, which is based on data from the U.S. Department of Transportation and combines the state of roads, bridges and railways, claims that 37.2% of New Jersey’s roadways are in poor condition – far above the national average of 21.8%, and ranking sixth-worst nationwide. For bridges, 8.1% are structurally deficient (22nd position) and the number of trains derailed from 2015 to 2019 was 104.

New Jersey, according to USA Today-24/7 Wall St., is also the third-word state for traffic congestion, with an average commuting time of over 32 minutes.  Nevada is at the bottom of the list of “worst states,” where only 13.7% of the roads and 1.4% of bridges are considered to be in poor condition, and with 21 train derailments (1.8 for every 100 miles of track). According to the study, “Nevada has the overall best infrastructure of any state”.

George Washington Bridge, New York City

Among the most populous states, California is seventh worst-ranked with 34.9% of roads in poor condition, 7% of bridges deemed structurally deficient, 369 trains derailed in the last four years. New York (in 14th place) needs to improve 18.3% of roads, 10% of bridges and had 163 derailed trains. Texas, which is in 18th place with 24.7% of the roads in poor condition, has the best score for the maintenance of its bridges: only 1.3% are considered structurally deficient. Florida is among the best-ranked states at 46th place, one of only eight states where less than 10% of roads are in poor condition.

Having roads in good condition does not mean a lack of spending. Quite the opposite. The analysis points out how states subjected to bad weather have a huge difference in road quality. Harsh winters are one of the reasons why Wisconsin has the worst roads in the U.S., with 81.7% in poor condition, even though — the study notes — it spent 8% of the state’s budget on highways from 2014 to 2019, one of the highest in the country. Rhode Island, by comparison, spends 3.9% of its state budget, yet nearly one bridge in four (23.1%) is structurally deficient.

U.S. Governors take action for infastructure funding

California Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2020-2021 state budget proposal in January called for an investment of $53 billion in state infrastructure for the next five years. This plan also includes spending necessary to counter the Covid-19, but even so, the large amount makes California one of the states with the highest planned public works expenditure.

Newsom plans to spend more than $40 billion, or three-quarters of the total amount, on the state’s transport system. And many observers are predicting that the Joe Biden presidency may revive plans for a high-speed train, put on hold because of soaring costs.

Texas Governor Greg Abbot is preparing for a new season full of building projects. The state was named the Top State for Infrastructure and Corporate Investments last September from Site Selection magazine based on the Global Groundwork Index, which ranks states based on investment trends in infrastructure projects and corporate end-user facility projects such as roads, bridges, airports, tunnels, pipelines, utilities, railways and other major infrastructure projects.

“Our state-of-the-art infrastructure and thriving business climate have kept Texas the top state for economic prosperity,” said Governor Abbot. “As our economy rebounds from the COVID downturn, we will continue strengthening our infrastructure, creating more jobs, and fostering a more prosperous economic environment for all Texans.”

As the new administration in Washington DC prepares to take over, Texas is ready with one of the most important infrastructure projects in recent decades: the high-speed train from Dallas to Houston. Webuild Group is among the companies involved.

From Minnesota, where Governor Tim Walz signed a package of public works for $1.9 billion to counter the effects of the pandemic, to Colorado, Missouri, and Louisiana, state governors are working on lists of projects that need funding. This preparation is gaining momentum as January 20 approaches. The economy needs to get up and running again.  States believe that infrastructure projects are one of the best ways to restart the engine.