John Porcari, the deputy secretary of transportation during the Obama Administration and an advisor to president-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, expressed optimism for a major infrastructure package in an address to the national conference of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) on November 12.
Porcari, former Secretary of the Maryland DOT and most recently an executive with engineering giant WSP, referenced Biden’s experience overseeing the delivery of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) under Obama as an advantage the former vice president can bring to the office. “There are real prospects for a bipartisan, broad infrastructure program. It’s no secret to anybody that President-elect Biden has long been an advocate of infrastructure. He feels it in his bones,” Porcari told the virtual conference, according to multiple news outlets.
Investment in infrastructure has always been one of the most bipartisan of issues, but efforts to pass a large, comprehensive national infrastructure package have been hampered by the political parties’ differing viewpoints on how to pay for it. ENR reports that Porcari said a priority of the new administration would be “not just shovel-ready projects but shovel-worthy projects—the ones that are actually worth doing even if they’re not the ones that are the easiest to get off the ground.”
Stressing that the observations about Biden’s plans were his own based on his involvement in the campaign and Biden’s platform, Porcari said the plan would likely include an increase in funds for existing core federal programs distributed by formula. According to ENR, Porcari said there would be a focus on existing grant programs that DOT awards via competitions, such as the BUILD grants (renamed from TIGER by the Trump Administration).
The website Transport News quoted Porcari as saying that the incoming transportation team will focus on resiliency. The Biden Administration will “[pay] attention to lower-cycle costs by building more resilient infrastructure; basically being a good steward of public dollars — that will be a critical part of the program. You can expect [resiliency] to basically trickle through the federal program across the board.”
Porcari added that the priority for the new administration will be getting the economy back on track and the coronavirus pandemic under control. Should an ARRA-type package be created to support economic recovery, it would likely serve as another boon to the area’s transportation infrastructure. The original ARRA package passed in 2009 resulted in hundreds of millions in funding for local roadways throughout Greater Boston. As of Fiscal Year 2011, the City of Boston alone received nearly $200 million in grant money for roadway paving and reconstruction. Several Somerville projects, including the reconstruction of a section of Washington Street (designed and overseen by DCI), were completed with the assistance of ARRA funding.