SPOKANE, Wash. — The US Senate approved a bipartisan bill this week that would direct $1 trillion in spending towards various infrastructure needs.
Although specific information on what projects might receive funding from this historic package is limited, the offices of the senators who voted for it have outlined myriad ways in which Washington and the Spokane area could benefit.
The bill still needs to pass the House and be signed by the president, meaning it could see significant changes.
Most of the package isn't like the stimulus bills, in which certain amounts were allocated to individual states, counties, and cities. Instead, money is largely allocated on a topic basis (e.g. railways) and will be distributed via grants to specific projects. In other words, specific local and state agencies can apply for funds, but there's no guarantee they'll get them.
Nonetheless, local leaders seem confident Eastern Washington would get its share.
Both Democratic senators from Washington and both Republican senators from Idaho voted yes on the bill.
Here are some ways our region could stand to benefit.
Many important Eastern Washington projects would be contenders for grant-based funding appropriated in the bill.
For instance, the state of Washington would received an estimated $4.7 billion for highway improvements. It's possible some of that money could go towards the North Spokane Corridor.
The state could also get $1.8 billion for mass transit, and the Spokane Transit Authority would have a good shot of getting some of that, for instance to buy more electric buses. STA has been awarded similar grants in the past.
About $50 billion nationwide would go to improving water management. It seems likely the existing Odessa aquifer project, which is aimed at creating more sustainable water supply for farmers in the Columbia Basin, would get some help there.
$7.5 billion nationwide has been allocated specifically for smaller but important road projects. These could include the Pines-Barker Road project in Spokane Valley and improvements to Airport Drive.
$66 billion would go across the country to improve railways, especially Amtrak, and that could include improvements to the cars and the routes for the Empire Builder line that goes through Eastern Washington.
Outside of specific projects, this bill also includes broad-reaching programs that could benefit everyone, including Spokane.
One big example is wildfire prevention. More than $4 billion has been set aside for everything from forest thinning to clearing out hazardous fuels to improving fire prediction technology.
Another program would bolster the electrical grid so it could better withstand severe weather. As we recently saw with heat-caused rolling blackouts, that could be a big deal in Spokane.
Internet access is also a big goal of this proposal. Washington could get about $100 million to get broadband to everyone in the state who doesn't have it.
$3 billion would go out nationwide to eliminating level railway crossings, which can cause huge backups and sometimes deadly accidents.
And Washington could get $71 million to install more electric vehicle charging stations across the state.
We do also have one example where we actually know about how much money the we would get for specific purposes locally: airports.
As it stands, Spokane International Airport could get $32 million to make improvements to runways and terminals.
Pullman Moscow Regional Airport could get $5.2 million.