WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has started 40,000 construction projects since the passage of major infrastructure legislation two years ago and is seeking to make the case that continued progress could depend on keeping Joe Biden in the White House after 2024.
Biden has long emphasized the bipartisan appeal of the $1 trillion investment, with governors, mayors and county officials from both parties keen to build roads, bridges, ports, rail, internet and other projects. His administration says getting that money out the door has required the hiring of 6,100 federal officials and meant a new degree of cooperation across governments that the outcome of next year’s presidential election could put at risk.
White House infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu said the occupant of the Oval Office increasingly matters. Some leading Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, opposed the law or now want to cut money for infrastructure services.
“For cities, towns, communities, countries to really jump forward, you have to have a continuous and plural progression of success over time,” Landrieu said in an interview. “This whole thing could get thrown out of the window if somebody else was sitting over there and decides, ‘We don’t want to do it.’
The White House says projects that have started or are in the works affect 4,500-plus communities in all states and the nation’s capital. That includes bringing access to free or discounted high-speech internet service to more than 21 million low-income households, making improvements to 135,800 miles of roads, repairing 7,800 bridges and providing nearly 3,000 low and zero-emission buses. There is money for almost 450 port and waterway projects. Investments are being developed for 190-plus airport terminal projects. Funds would be distributed over several years.
In the interview and during a subsequent meeting with reporters, Landrieu was careful not to comment on the presidential race. A federal law known as the Hatch Act restricts partisan political activity by federal employees.
His warning gets at the election’s hidden stakes and whether the Biden administration can fulfill the ambitions of its first three years. Infrastructure is a key example of the president making promises that go well beyond a political timeline. Consider the Baltimore rail tunnel he promoted on Monday and the Hudson Tunnel bringing rail passengers into New York City; both are scheduled to open in 2035.
Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, has disparaged the infrastructure package and Republicans lawmakers who backed it. Biden has joked about Trump holding “infrastructure week” events during his presidency but never managing to sign an infrastructure law.
Biden argues that the public works projects and other legislative accomplishments show how Washington can improve the daily lives of people in the United States. “ Bidenomics ” is a campaign centerpiece.
Some Republican candidates have pledged to undo much of his economic agenda.
“I’m going to take all the executive orders, the regulations, everything involving Bidenomics, I’m going to rip it up and I’m going to throw it in the trash can where it belongs,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday during the latest GOP primary debate. “That is going to give the economy some breathing room.”
House Republicans have proposed cutting $1 billion from Amtrak, the national passenger rail service, and other transit money, under the argument that deficit reduction and low taxes should take priority.
To sell the infrastructure program, former New Orleans Mayor Landrieu estimated that he had traveled 110,000 miles in visiting cities and towns with potential projects. He went by boat to a tribal community in Alaska.
He recalled bringing back staff over a holiday so they could call governors who had not applied for money to plug orphaned oil and natural gas wells.
“You don’t buy this lottery ticket, you can’t win the lottery,” he recalled saying at the time.