the Law on investment in infrastructure and employment (IIJA) – the $ 1.2 trillion package adopted late last year with bipartisan support – contained many big-ticket items that have made the headlines and raised hopes for major improvements in the country’s infrastructure.
But behind these big programs, there were many, many, many small initiatives that will trigger all kinds of activities. Some of them represent federal government support for ideas that have been gaining momentum for years, if not decades. And in the future, some of them could serve as a starting point for much more important things.
Here are five important but under-discussed provisions of the IIJA that many state and local governments might have missed:
1. A national pilot program of road user charges
ARTICLE 13002: NATIONAL PILOT OF USING COSTS PER THOUSAND OF MOTOR VEHICLES
Like electric vehicles regularly make your way into the American mainstream, the use of gasoline tax money to finance roads is starting to appear more and more perilous. So states have been working for years on pilot projects to test another way to raise funds for roads: the road user charge.
The concept is simply to charge drivers based on how much they drive rather than how much fuel they consume. And while the federal government has put funds for these state pilot projects before, it appears that the Infrastructure Bill created the first nationwide attempt at a road user charge pilot test.
As part of the pilot project, the US Department of Transportation will be looking for volunteers in all 50 states, plus Washington, DC and Puerto Rico. It will also bring together an advisory board of stakeholders and experts and can explore various options for mileage tracking, such as on-board data, devices that plug into the standard OBD-II port, and mobile apps.
2. Collection of data on transport access
ARTICLE 13010: PILOT TRANSPORT ACCESS PROGRAM
The country’s roads were largely built with cars in mind, which throughout the 20th century meant that the quarters have been separated and great deserts hostile to pedestrians have been erected in the heart of cities. Coupled with anemic transit systems in many areas, low-income people often find themselves without good options for getting to work, grocery stores, hospitals and other necessities.
A provision of the IIJA is setting up a pilot program within the Department of Transportation to work with states and regional or metropolitan planning organizations to study the issue. Specifically, he calls on the ministry to work on collecting data to help identify how people in the areas studied are getting the things they need. When it comes to infrastructure priorities, this kind of work could mean shifting the conversation from car-focused research for bottlenecks to mobility-focused research for public needs.
In particular, the law specifies that the methodology used to determine accessibility must be open source.
The department has two years to report back to Congress on the program, including an assessment of the feasibility of collecting this type of accessibility data more regularly for locations across the country.
3. Pour data into the water
SECTION 50106: OPERATIONAL SUSTAINABILITY OF SMALL PUBLIC WATER SYSTEMS and SECTION 50213: PILOT WATER DATA SHARING PROGRAM
There are approximately 145,000 public water systems in the United States, and among these, almost all are small – which means they tend not to have big budgets with which to purchase the latest technology to help identify the parts of their systems that need work.
But the first section of the infrastructure bill mentioned here creates a program with $ 50 million available each year until 2026 to help them make those purchases. Grants, specifically reserved for systems serving less than 10,000 people, can be used to deploy asset management software, GIS, leak detectors, meters and more.
The second section then seeks to exploit all the data that water utilities, large and small, collect with this new technology. This grant program will support efforts to help utilities share information on water quality, new cybersecurity systems and other technologies.
4. Stormwater Centers of Excellence
SECTION 50217: STORMWATER INFRASTRUCTURE TECHNOLOGY
As climate change increases the risk of urban flooding In many parts of the country, the infrastructure that effectively manages stormwater is becoming increasingly important. This provision of the bill provides for the creation of three to five new centers of excellence in higher education institutions, non-profit organizations or research institutes to act as leaders studying this infrastructure.
It is also setting aside $ 10 million each year until 2026 in grants to turn this research into action with development and implementation grants.
5. Research on forest fire management technology
ARTICLE 70204: DUTIES OF THE COMMISSION
A new commission, jointly created by the departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Homeland Security, will be responsible for studying ways to manage the forest fires that have become more and more destructive during the last years.
As part of this section, some of the committee’s work will report back to Congress on the kind of policy it should follow when it comes to new technologies that can help prevent and mitigate damage from these fires. This includes satellites, drones, and remote sensors.
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