Looking around our communities, it’s not uncommon to see roads, bridges and other infrastructure in need of serious repair. And as one of the country’s fastest growing states, Utah is also in need of additional infrastructure. For years — decades, even — elected officials have asserted that we needed to turn our attention toward our nation’s aging infrastructure. Yet various challenges and disagreements have resulted in little progress.
When he first took office, President Joe Biden proposed an infrastructure plan that would cost nearly $2 trillion — an unprecedented request both in terms of the amount of spending and the types of projects he wanted to fund. Republicans unanimously refused to sign up for the multitrillion-dollar spending, tax hikes, huge deficits and expanded social programs.
For several months now, I have been working with a group of colleagues to see if we could reach agreement on a bipartisan path forward. It was pretty clear that if the Democrats wrote their own partisan bill, Utah would end up with the short end of the stick.
As a result of our group’s work, Senate Republicans and Democrats have agreed on a proposal that is strictly limited to physical infrastructure. It does not raise taxes. It spends less than one-third of the president’s original plan. And because it is largely comprised of legislation that has already gone through the traditional legislative process with bipartisan support in the committees of jurisdiction, it is truly bipartisan.
The White House has endorsed our bipartisan plan.
It is estimated that 62 bridges and more than 2,064 miles of highway in Utah are in poor condition. Under our plan, Utah would receive substantial funding to repair these deteriorating roads, bridges and highways. Right now, Utahns are forced to use only surface streets to make the commute from Salt Lake City to the west side of the valley because there isn’t highway infrastructure in place. In addition to funding for necessary repairs, Utah would also receive funding to expand our infrastructure so we can keep up with our rapid growth.
The bipartisan plan would also make investment in Utah’s public transportation systems, helping to clear up some of the traffic on our roads. This is particularly important along the Wasatch Front where air quality is a critical concern. It would also help modernize the nearly 17% of public transit vehicles in our state that are on their last legs. As of now, my Smart Intersections Act — legislation to reduce traffic congestion by modernizing traffic signals — will also be included in this bipartisan package.
Our plan does not ignore the threats posed to infrastructure due to climate change. We in Utah are seeing firsthand the effects which the historic drought, combined with poor federal forest management, is having on our land. So far this year, more than 500 wildfires in our state have burned nearly 60,000 acres. The bipartisan package would provide Utah with more funding for critical programs that improve our ability to manage and mitigate wildfires and other extreme weather events.
The American West continues to get drier. Our plan would increase funding for Utah’s water storage and distribution projects and help improve our state’s drinking and waste water infrastructure. Additionally, the Utah Navajo Water Rights Settlement — legislation to bring running water to the 40% of Utah’s Navajos who lack it — would receive full funding.
Our package would provide more resources to supplement the good work being done to expand Utah’s broadband infrastructure and provide families with affordable, fast and reliable internet. This effort is especially important for the many rural parts of our state — counties such as San Juan, Piute, Millard and Wayne — where Utahns have inadequate internet access.
Utahns, like most other Americans, are concerned with our ballooning deficit and don’t want to see massive tax increases. That’s why I fought to make sure that much of our plan is paid for by repurposing federal COVID-19 stimulus funds. Additionally, our plan creates an infrastructure financing authority to incentivize public-private sector partnerships to fund long-term infrastructure projects, which would alleviate the continued need for federal dollars to fund future community projects.
Neither “side” got everything it wanted. But that’s how our country — and Congress — must work to go beyond rhetoric to actually get things done for our communities. In negotiating this plan, we have shown Americans that we in the Senate can still work together to find common ground.
Upon our return to Washington this week, I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to garner support for our plan. And ultimately, when this bill gets to the president’s desk, I take him at his word that he will sign it, without contingencies.
Mitt Romney, a Republican, is the junior senator from Utah.
Opinion published in the Deseret News.