Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a “C- grade” on the nation’s infrastructure. I think I would agree with them on that, as I am writing this on my laptop in the waiting room of a service center after blowing out two tires on a pothole deep enough to swim in.
While a C- is an upgrade from the D+ ASCE issued in 2017, it continues to illustrate that our country has underinvested in the infrastructure we rely on to travel and move our farm goods to market. The underinvestment isn’t limited to just roads and bridges but includes our ports, canals, railways, and increasingly strained power grid. Imagine what would happen to your farm’s safety and productivity if you deferred maintenance, failed to mend fences, ignored damaged equipment, and generally underinvested in the things that make you successful; unfortunately that is the current state of U.S. infrastructure and why Farm Bureau has been calling for a significant investment in our nation’s infrastructure for years.
At long last, Congress has taken a step forward and passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package which will dedicate $1.2T over the next decade to infrastructure. Before we outline how that money will be spent and what it means here in Virginia, it is important to note that this bipartisan infrastructure legislation is different than the partisan spending plan, called the “Build Back Better Act,” currently being debated in Congress.
At its core, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package is a traditional infrastructure bill, but it also contains significant investments to benefit U.S. farmers, and rural communities.
Every day, Americans make 178M vehicle trips over structurally deficient bridges. In fact, over 40% of the bridges in the United States are over 50 years old. Anyone who hauls livestock or timber has noticed new weight restrictions popping up on Virginia bridges to try and address the issue of infrastructure in a state of disrepair. The infrastructure bill contains $110B for roads and bridges, including $530M specifically for Virginia.
Virginia is blessed with a deep-water port that moves goods in and out of the Commonwealth efficiently. However, much of our country’s inland waterways rely on 50+ year old locks, dams, and general infrastructure, which creates a supply chain bottleneck between farms and ports. The bipartisan infrastructure bill invests $17.3 billion to shore up our ports and inland waterways.
Broadband is infrastructure, and unfortunately, 1 in 4 U.S. farms have no access to high-speed internet. This tool is essential to modern agriculture and gives families access to online health care, education, and allows farmers to use precision ag technologies to reduce inputs, protect water quality, and improve soil health. The infrastructure bill invests $65 billion in broadband expansion so rural Americans aren’t left behind without affordable broadband service. A minimum of $100M of this amount is specifically being allocated to Virginia.
Beyond “shovel ready” infrastructure, the bill will help to address transportation-related supply chain issues that impact the rural and farm economy. Notably, to help alleviate the driver shortage and strengthen our supply chains, the bill includes provisions to help train and recruit truck drivers, and an exemption for livestock and insect (managed pollinators) haulers from Hours of Service regulations within a 150 air-mile radius from their final destination. This funding is targeted to focus on our nation’s infrastructure challenges and help keep Virginia farmers competitive internationally, and we look forward to seeing the implementation of the bill.
We are grateful to all our members who continue to make their voices heard on why infrastructure is critical to the agriculture industry and rural Virginia. Your efforts keep our lawmakers accountable to work together and find solutions that help this industry succeed.