When the US Senate passed the $1.2 Trillion infrastructure bill this month, supporters of the massive bill hail it a crucial step to fixing and updating the nation’s infrastructure and address social and environmental issues.
According to NBC News, President Biden calls it a “historic investment that’s going to transform America, cut taxes for working families and position the American economy for long-term, long-term economic growth.”
The US $1.2 trillion infrastructure package includes a fine print that will revive the decades-old Appalachian transport infrastructure projects known as the ‘Appalachian Development Highway System’ (ADHS).
According to E&E Daily, “The $1.25 billion, to be spent over five years, would be spread over 11 states on a formula tied to the number of incomplete stretches on the approximately 3,100-mile network, originally intended to improve transportation and spur economic growth in areas along the Appalachian mountain range.”
According to the article, each state will get a share of the funding for highway and road projects, including Corridor H, a four-lane road running west to east of West Virginia that goes back to President Kennedy’s time. The Northern Beltline project, “a 52-mile undertaking intended to create a six-lane loop around Birmingham,” also originates back in the 1960s.
Environmentalists criticize this project as a contradiction of the Biden administration’s goal to cut carbon dioxide emissions. They also say that the project will endanger wetlands and forests.
Despite including climate change and historic funding for mass transport, the project will put “a lot more money into very old ideas, and there is no older idea than the ADHS,” says Steve Davis, spokesman for Transportation for America, a research and advocacy group
But powerful businesses and other members of the congress are backing the Northern Beltline project as they believe it is critical for the development of the area. The article says that a House bill was also introduced similar to its Senate counterpart intended to pour more money into the Appalachian project.
The article further mentions:
- The ADHS that is supposed to add 2350 miles of road to 11 states has grown to around 3100 miles in 13 states.
- Ninety per cent of the networks are now built or under construction.
- The Appalachian Regional commission overseeing the program has highlighted the benefits of the projects in their 2017 study.
- This includes – creating or supporting 168,000 jobs, generated $19.6 billion in yearly business sales, and saved 231 million hours of travel time annually.
However, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet report gives a mixed finding. It says that although the highways have dramatically reduced travel times, “poverty rates have not significantly changed and remained far higher than the statewide average.”
The article says that whether the project has benefited the Appalachian community is open to interpretation. Skeptics, however, see the project as emblematic of an inability to break with a road-building status quo that encourages sprawl and carbon emissions. In contrast, others say that people want to drive on big roads.
Debates about road building and transportation service levels are not new and reflect different priorities in society.
Infrastructure managers can use infrastructure asset management analysis and practice to provide societal debates and enable informed and reasoned alternatives.