Here’s how billions of infrastructure dollars will be spent in Kansas, Nebraska and other Midwest states
As President Biden visited the Midwest to tout the recently passed infrastructure measure, the Midwest Newsroom breaks down a regional “wish list,” and explains how some of the money will be spent.
Taking the podium at the Kansas City Area Transport Authority last week, President Joe Biden touted the passage of his infrastructure bill, as part of a tour promoting one of his administration’s top goals.
The package of infrastructure priorities comes with a price tag of $1.3 trillion, and is designed to focus on a series of long-term projects for the nation.
Biden emphasized the importance of investing in the nation’s infrastructure again, drawing comparisons to how other nations’ spending has outpaced the United States.
“We invested in our people, we gave opportunity,” Biden said, referring to the massive projects of the Cold War era. “We didn’t become this nation by thinking small.”
Biden also warned how the effects of climate change will make improving infrastructure more challenging. Both Missouri and Kansas ranked in the top 10 for states experiencing power outages, and the 2014 Joplin tornado remains a reminder that disasters can strike in the middle of the country.
The Kansas City metro area was already in the process of improving infrastructure by offering free public transit, adding a terminal to the airport and improving the port. But even more is coming.
"Guess what? It’s going to be infrastructure decade now, man."
The infrastructure bill allocates money in a series of key areas including:
- Replacing lead pipes
- Expanding high-speed internet access
- Repairing roads and bridges
- Improving public transit
- Upgrading airports and ports
- Investing in passenger rail
- Building a network of electric vehicle chargers
- Improving the electric grid
- Developing more resilient infrastructure
- Environmental investments
The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed in November after months long negotiations with Republicans and Democrats.
A total of 19 republican senators, including Roy Blunt of Missouri, Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, voted for the bill.
In the House of Representatives, 13 Republicans crossed party lines to vote for the bill, many of whom reside in competitive districts. Several progressive Democrats voted against the bill, including Cori Bush of Missouri.
Kansas will receive $3.8 billion in infrastructure funding based on the administration’s formula.
Rep. Sharice Davids was the only member of the Kansas congressional delegation to vote for the infrastructure bill, and joined the president during the signing of the measure in November. Her vote was supported by several Kansas City, Kansas area leaders, as well as the Secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation.
“KDOT recognizes a modern transportation system must efficiently and effectively move people, freight and technology," KDOT secretary Julie Lorenz said in a release prepared by Davids’ office. "The (bill) represents an investment in our people and a boost to our economy to help us improve the quality of life in every corner of Kansas.”
When combined with Missouri, the two states will get $140 million to increase the number of electric vehicle chargers. While owning an EV is feasible in urban areas, the lack of charging stations in rural areas make long travel times more of a challenge.
Kansas will also receive funds to protect against wildfires and cyberattacks. In the past decade, extreme weather events have caused $20 billion in damage.
So far, Nebraska state leaders have yet to provide plans on how they plan to spend the $3 billion allocated to the state in the infrastructure bill.
Speaking at an agricultural expo on Tuesday, Gov. Pete Ricketts said the main focus will be improving Nebraska’s roadways and bridges.
The state suffered substantial damage to thousands of miles of highways during the 2019 floods, of which most has been repaired.
"We had actually 10,000 miles of highways closed at one point.” Ricketts said. “[We] repaired 27 bridges and really turned those around in a very short manner to be able to get those back up and running."
The discussion of the state’s roads and bridges ramped up this week following a forum featuring Republican candidates for the governor’s office.
When asked what they want to use the allocations for, NU Regent Jim Pillen said he didn’t want to spend the money on roads or broadband, saying they are “not that bad.”
Ricketts is term-limited, and the primary will take place in 2022.
Access to high-speed internet has also been an issue in the state. The bill would allocate at least $100 million to increase broadband coverage. The Southeast Nebraska Development District has been gathering internet speed reports from across the state, and they have found slower speeds in most rural parts of the state.
Additionally, the state will get $358 million over five years to improve water infrastructure. Supply chain issues have created problems for utilities providing water to smaller towns.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has prioritized expanding broadband access to every Iowan. The bill will provide a minimum allocation of $100 million to expand coverage. According to documents from the White House, 16% of Iowans do not have an internet service provider, but only 2.4% of Iowans live in a place where there is no broadband infrastructure in place.
“Among the many lessons learned from the challenges of 2020, one of the most critical is that access to reliable high-speed internet is not a luxury; it is just as vital to Iowa communities as running water and electricity,” Reynolds said in a release. “Iowa’s technology infrastructure begins with a robust broadband network, and its speed and reliability are essential to every aspect of the state’s future.”
Reynolds’ plan includes an additional $450 million investment by the state to improve access, which includes speed requirements for ISPs and public-private partnerships to subsidize broadband for low-income Iowans.
Also, the EPA has announced more than $110 million that will improve water infrastructure in Iowa. The money will be used to improve the quality and access to drinking water, as well as remove lead pipes.
The Missouri Department of Transportation is expecting $9 billion from the infrastructure bill, of which $5 billion has already been allocated for projects. Patrick McKenna, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, said on KCUR’s Up to Date in November that several interstate corridors are being eyed for improvements, as well as increased investment in transit.
Those interstate corridors include:
- Jackson County, I-70 from downtown Kansas City, Missouri to I-435
- Lafayette County, I-70 and Missouri 131
- Clay County, I-29 and the I-35 corridor
Several underfunded projects that have been on hold by MoDOT will also get money from the infrastructure bill.
St. Louis’ MetroLink may see an expansion due to the new funds. It would expand light rail service into south and north St. Louis and into north St. Louis County.
While the money is technically available now, it doesn’t mean projects will begin immediately. It will be up to states and local governments to decide specifically where to spend the money, as well as begin the bidding process for contractors.
This story comes from the Midwest Newsroom, an investigative journalism collaboration including KCUR 89.3, IPR, Nebraska Public Media News, St. Louis Public Radio and NPR.
Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.