The new investment would provide a 40% increase to two key federal freight infrastructure programs as well as additional money for new programs.
“The money is very much needed for a backlog of projects across the country,” said Elaine Nessle, the coalition’s executive director.
“These projects stay on the books until we have enough money and the needs keep piling on as consumers buy more goods and add stress on the system,” Nessle added.
Experts in the industry have long been sounding the alarm about weaknesses in the infrastructure system that transports goods and produce across the country and the lack of funding to address them.
Pandemic highlights existing problems
But the current backup is shining a bright light on problems that existed long before the pandemic, and suddenly making households keenly aware of how important the system is to putting food on their tables and holiday gifts on store shelves.
“The pandemic is sort of a unique situation, but in a sense it’s what people have been warning about,” said Chuck Baker, president of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.
The 600 different short railroad lines across the United States help connect a lot of rural areas directly to the national railroad network and can be more efficient than trucks. They are typically privately owned, expensive to operate and could benefit greatly from a boost in federal funding, said Baker, noting it could help update the tracks and, for some, “help stay in existence.”
Waiting on Congress
But it has yet to come up for a vote in the House, where progressive Democrats want to tie it to a larger spending bill. That piece of legislation would take up the remaining parts of Biden’s agenda that are unlikely to garner Republican support but could be passed without their votes using a legislative process known as reconciliation.
Democratic leaders have pressed lawmakers to have an agreement before October 31 in order to move the infrastructure bill before the short-term surface transportation funding bill expires. But it’s not a firm deadline and negotiations are continuing this week.