Minneapolis Star Tribune
By Hunter Woodall
WASHINGTON – Minnesota would see billions of dollars from a massive bipartisan infrastructure package making its way through the U.S. Senate.
With lawmakers continuing to focus on the lengthy infrastructure bill this week, additional details released by the White House on Wednesday showed that Minnesota can look forward to a surge in funding if the plan manages to get through Congress.
That would include $820 million over five years for public transportation, $302 million for bridge repairs and replacement, and $4.5 billion for highways, according to the fact sheet released by the White House for Minnesota.
More money also may come if the legislation becomes law, though how much remains unclear.
Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., said the legislation would "mean billions of dollars in resources to help repair Minnesota roads and bridges and airports and inland waterways," along with a major investment in broadband.
"I can say with great confidence that this is going to help clear out the backlog and make much-needed improvements to our infrastructure across the board," said Smith.
"It's going to be a huge benefit. It's going to improve the state's competitiveness. It is going to mean that people living in rural communities are going to be able to get where they need to get to more safely."
Other major funding areas in Minnesota detailed by the White House include $68 million during a five-year span as part of a national effort for an electric vehicle charging network. And an earlier set of national figures from the Biden administration showed that $65 billion was expected to go toward broadband internet nationwide.
As part of the Senate plan, the White House said Wednesday, Minnesota would receive at least $100 million to boost broadband coverage and access across the state. The White House estimated that about 1 million Minnesotans would qualify for a program it said "will help low-income families afford internet access."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a leading voice on broadband legislation who has highlighted the needs in Minnesota, called the bipartisan legislation "an outstanding result for our state ... because of the mix of rural, suburban, urban, we actually stand to gain big time on the broadband."
Minnesota, like other places in the United States, has barriers to broadband access that became more apparent during the coronavirus pandemic.
"As the provisions stand in the bill today, this is going to do a whole heck of a lot to help Minnesota families and Minnesota businesses get connected in the way that they should be," Nathan Zacharias, lobbyist for the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, said in an interview this week.
The legislation offers a chance at a significant bipartisan breakthrough for President Joe Biden, who has been at odds on a range of issues with Republicans since taking office in January. The White House reported that the bill includes roughly $550 billion in new federal spending with an expected total price tag of around $1 trillion.
Though there has been some initial Republican support on the infrastructure effort, final passage in the Senate is not guaranteed. And Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the House "will not take up the infrastructure bill until the Senate passes the reconciliation bill," referring to a proposed $3.5 trillion push that Democrats could pass on their own.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a floor speech Monday that the bipartisan bill's text "provides a good and important jumping-off point for what needs to be a robust and bipartisan process out here on the floor." But he derided the House Democrats' $3.5 trillion effort as a "socialist shopping list."
DFL Gov. Tim Walz this week called the bipartisan plan "a win for Minnesota," while the leader of the state Department of Transportation pointed to the impact that federal infrastructure support would have on future generations.
"The proposed funding in the Senate infrastructure bill would significantly contribute to MnDOT's ability to improve and maintain our existing system; create new and better options for pedestrians, biking and mobility; and speed up efforts to embrace technology and reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher said in a statement.
Major areas of spending in the deal highlighted by the Biden administration included what the White House described as $110 billion in new money "for roads, bridges and major projects," along with $25 billion for airports, $39 billion for public transportation and $17 billion for port infrastructure.
The bill also includes $1 billion for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
"This really feels like a once-in-a-generation type physical infrastructure package," said Laura Ziegler, director of government affairs for the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota.