Infrastructure bill to make improvements in Michiana

NOW: Infrastructure bill to make improvements in Michiana

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. -- President Biden's infrastructure bill was passed earlier this week, with $1.2 trillion going toward road projects and other improvements nationwide.

Michigan is going to see over $10 billion of federal funding to improve public transportation, bridges, internet access, and other services. In Berrien County, they're likely to see improvements with the roads and in the water.

“The federal infrastructure bill’s going to be filtered down to solve some of our most pressing infrastructure needs," said Arthur Havlicek, with the Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber. "Roads are getting the largest chunk.”

Of the $10 billion Michigan is set to get, $7.3 billion will go directly into repairing and improving roads that have long needed attention.

“There’s a massive economic impact to having smooth, drivable roads. And when you think about the number of products that are transported all over the state, bad roads actually increase the cost of doing business,” said Havlicek. 

$1.3 billion is being set aside to improve water infrastructure, to help replace lead pipes throughout the state and directly help the people of Benton Harbor, who have already started to see their lead lines replaced. 

Havlicek said “The cash infusion for Benton Harbor is going to go a long way towards solving their water infrastructure needs on a faster timetable. These dollars are going to go a long way toward helping the citizens of Benton Harbor have access to clean drinking water.”

But these kinds of improvements take time. Work on some of the improvements statewide might not start until 2023, and Havlicek worries that the current labor shortage will delay these projects even further. 

“Now we have the money but now we don’t necessarily have the workforce to get these projects done," he said. "This is a historic investment in our infrastructure but we need a historic amount of hands to be able to help rebuild some of the crumbling parts of this country, but now with our labor force participation rates, we don’t have that.”

It's a similar story in Indiana, which is set to receive nearly $9 billion from the federal government-- $6.6 billion of which will go directly into improving roads, like US-31.

“It’s truly what is first seen in the state," said Laurie Maudlin, the executive director of the US-31 Coalition. "When people come into the state, when people are driving through, that’s the first thing you notice are the roads."

Maudlin says Indiana has been keen on maintaining the roadways throughout the state.

"The legislature was pretty instrumental in passing some legislation back in 2017 that really took care of our road projects and put into place a long term plan for funding," she said. "This allows all of those projects that might be planned for the future to be accelerated. Something like three-lane-ing the interstates or US-31. There’s lots of big projects out there that would be eligible now.”

“We have quite a few priorities across the state that are pretty important—one to our area is US-31," said Jeff Rea, President of the South Bend Regional Chamber. "US-31 has been a top priority for 25 years. They’ve invested significant dollars into it, but there’s still six stop lights, two railroad crossings and a hundred intersections there that could use improvements.”

The roads getting a vast majority of the funding is not a surprise, considering how important they are to attracting new business. 

“At our core, the business community has agreed that infrastructure investments need to happen," said Rea. "We’ve got to continue to move goods and services and the best ways are to have those quality roads.”

Rea also says to expect improvements being made with the South Shore line and the South Bend International Airport, but it will be some time before the money can be allocated. 

“Now is sort of the sorting out the details, right? So even though that the money has been approved, it’s not quite available yet. You can’t apply for funds today, but very shortly you’ll be able to,” said Rea.

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