COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Central Ohio’s development and infrastructure leaders aren’t holding back in their excitement over the new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), signed into law by President Biden on Monday.
“Infrastructure is what keeps our economy humming, it helps us grow better as we grow bigger and we’ve got big needs and this bill helps address that,” said William Murdock, executive director with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.
“It was an exciting day yesterday but wait until you see the excitement as these expenditures are made and people see that the United States is investing in ourselves again,” White House Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy said Tuesday.
“We’re talking about replacing those old lead water pipes so every kid can have clean water to drink. We’re talking about transforming our transportation system – everything from rail to roads to bridges to our transit system. we’re going to modernize it, make it clean, make it electric. We’re looking at how we transform all of our buses, all of our fleets to electric vehicles so we can have clean air for our kids sitting in those buses, making sure they’re electric instead of those dirty diesels,” McCarthy added.
That modernization process is something the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) started just last month, a process the IIJA will help speed up.
“We just put our first electric vehicles on the street,” said Patrick Harris, vice president of External Affairs with COTA. “There’s a low/no grant program that’s part of IIJA as well and we’ll rely on that program to help us get more electric vehicles and low/no emission, compressed natural gas vehicles on the street.
“COTA has two projects that involve high frequency, high-capacity transit that could come to the region in the next few years and we’ll rely on those funds invested through IIJA to help support that infrastructure investment,” Harris added. “These dollars will really be beneficial to unveil that to the community in the not-too-distant future.”
Thanks to a change in formula funding, COTA expects to see an additional $5 to $6 million a year in federal funding.
“That will go directly into our operations,” Harris said. “So that’ll help support us getting as much service on the street as needed. We are seeing increased demand coming back from a pandemic so those dollars coming in the door will help us meet that demand.”
It’s not just bus fleets being improved. The roads they travel on will see improvements as well.
“Things that everyone grumbles about like the 70/71 split, that might benefit from this,” Murdock said.
Franklin County Engineer Cornell Robertson reiterated his intent to add a lane in both directions to Alum Creek Driver near Rickenbacker Airport with federal funding.
“That sees an extremely large volume of traffic, about 40,000 vehicles per day, and of those 40,000 vehicles, about 25 percent are large semi-trucks,” Robertson said. “We expect in the next 20 years the number of jobs in that area will increase.”
In fact, the expected growth of central Ohio is the major reason why local leaders are celebrating the passage of the infrastructure bill. They hope it will help sustain that growth and, best-case scenario, improve the quality of life for residents, new and old.
“It’s a transformational investment for a transformational community,” Harris said. “We’re expecting 500,000 up towards one million people over the next three decades, so this type of investment will help us embrace growth, but it also allows us to catch up on a backlog of projects that we have for the region in public transit.”
“At MORPC, we’re making sure central Ohio’s being really thoughtful, really assertive to go after these funds because frankly we may not get another chance to really move things ahead so quickly with so much investment and that’s something we’re really excited about,” Murdock said.
Also adding to the excitement? The jobs the bill will create.
“Those project investment dollars will start flowing here in the coming months and I think we’re going to see an explosions of projects and getting things off our waiting list and getting them started, getting some of these big projects moving through their next phases and that could mean real jobs for people around the region,” Murdock said.