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Biden’s infrastructure plan will set aside about $35 billion for Texas projects

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

We are always looking for interesting stories that highlight innovation and happenings around our great State of Texas. This article was recently reported in The Denton Chronicle.

One year after Congress passed a historical infrastructure bill, some big money is flowing into Texas.

As of November, $13.9 billion in funding had been announced for the Lone Star State, including for 310 specific projects, according to the White House. The total is second only to California’s $16.2 billion.

The biggest chunk in Texas, $10.8 billion, will go to roads, bridges and other transportation projects. Several highway projects getting improvements are in Dallas-Fort Worth, including along Interstate 635 and near Loop 12.

“It’s a wonderful infusion,” said Chandra Bhat, professor of transportation engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. “These are sensible investments for an infrastructure that has been ailing for some time.”

Texas has received funding in many other areas: $645 million for public transportation, $246 million for clean energy and energy efficiency, and $147 million for building an electric vehicle charger network.

Bhat pointed to increased spending on new technologies, such as $35 million earmarked for a new zero-carbon power plant at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. The grant won’t cover the entire cost of the facility, which is estimated at $158 million, but more money could be coming soon.

“All of this technology investment moves us in the right direction,” said Bhat, director of the school’s Center for Transport Research.

It’s not clear how much funding has already been received and how much is in the pipeline awaiting various levels of review.

“It’s split between so many different programs and agencies that it’s hard to say when the money will get there and eventually the project will be complete,” said Joseph Kane, an associate at Brookings Metro, a Washington think tank that founded one has infrastructure hub to track the awards.

The actual flow of the money depends on the agency, the program and the recipient, he said. With so many funds following the usual path for such improvements, highways and road projects lead the way.

“A lot of these programs just get an extra zero or two added at the end of their budget,” Kane said.

The additional federal funding is advancing many projects in Texas, and that reflects the state’s willingness, said Travis Attanasio, president of the Texas section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The state had over 1,200 projects that were either “shovel-ready” or “shovel-worthy” in the first year after passage of the Infrastructure Act, he said.

“They went out pretty quickly, and I know a lot of other projects are getting released right now,” said Attanasio, who is also a senior civil engineer for Burleson.

The labor shortage remains a major challenge, not only for construction crews and engineering offices. Finding building inspectors is particularly difficult, he said, and government agencies looking to land competitive projects need a range of skills, from grant writers to accountants.

Even if you have the people, you can wait for supplies. Burleson will have to wait nine months to get a stoplight as part of a road improvement, Attanasio said.

While most infrastructure funds come from traditional formula funding, the law authorizes just over $200 billion in competitive grants. The North Central Texas Council of Governments, in partnership with Dallas and DART, has already received a grant: a $25 million grant to improve bike and pedestrian lanes around several Dallas transit stations.

The project calls for the construction of over 30 miles of sidewalk within a half-mile radius of several DART light rail stations including 8th & Corinth, Morrell, Illinois and Kiest. The Cedar Crest Trail will be extended approximately 1.5 miles, and 12 bus stops along DART’s 217 bus route will be upgraded with digital signs and safety features.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $43.75 million, with about 57% of federal funding going to infrastructure, said Kevin Kokes, sustainable development program manager at the North-Central Texas Government Council.

Dallas is contributing $5.75 million and DART about $3 million, he said. But the federal dollars haven’t arrived yet.

“We’re still working on the agreement,” Kokes said. “Once the agreement is finalized, they will authorize us to proceed.”

He expects work to begin in early 2023. The grant proposal emphasized that improvements would reach a south Dallas community where 17% of the population does not have access to a vehicle of their own: “We primarily serve underprivileged populations who rely on public transportation,” said Kokes. “That’s one of the reasons we thought this was going to be a very strong application.”

He is working on further funding applications for the next funding round, which are due by the end of February.

Nur Yazdani, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington, is working on a proposal to use sensors to make bridges “smarter.” The sensors could detect changes in traffic, weight and durability, and the effects of extreme weather conditions. They will use artificial intelligence to identify trends.

He said it will take time to implement the many facets of the Infrastructure Act.

“We have to be patient and understand that this is a huge bill,” Yazdani said. “And there are cities and planning organizations in Austin, Houston and beyond, and they’re all competing for the same money.”

He has worked with state highway officials and said the infrastructure bill has already impacted some major projects in Dallas-Fort Worth, including around Interstate 820: “Without that infrastructure infusion, these particular projects would be pushed back in time,” he said .

While government infrastructure funding supports many routine or unsurprising upgrades, UT-Austin’s Bhat is most intrigued by pioneering achievements.

Houston’s transit company METRO received a $21.6 million grant to purchase electric buses and charging stations to replace an aging diesel fleet. That will improve air quality in some disadvantaged areas, but Bhat thinks it’s “low-hanging fruit”.

Austin’s transit agency, CapMetro, has been awarded $20 million to build a demand-response operations and maintenance facility that will include pickup service and common areas for farmers markets and grocery supplies.

“I am looking for further investments in this direction,” said Bhat. “We have to expand our public transport network because we can’t work our way out of traffic jams.”

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