Truss bridge now

The long-awaited federal infrastructure plan was passed by Congress on Friday and signed into law by President Joe Biden on Monday. While it will take some time for spending at the granular level here to come into focus, just glancing at the raw numbers shows the measure means a lot for North Carolina.

Let’s talk roads. North Carolina is responsible for the second-largest highway system in the country, trailing only Texas. The N.C. Department of Transportation oversees the network of state routes, interstates and U.S. routes that adds up to 80,000 miles of surface. Laid in a straight line, it would circle the globe. Three times, in fact.

Lots of road. Enough road that 13,500 bridges have been built to allow the pavement to keep rolling across swamps, creeks and rivers.

All those roads and all those bridges have been neglected to larger or lesser degrees over the years, and need some care. The infrastructure bill devotes $7.2 billion to the state’s highways and more than $450 million for bridge repair and replacement. It also kicks in $911 million for public transit options and $109 million over five years to build out the EV charging network that’s going to be needed for the flood of electric vehicles set to hit the market (EVs are around 3 percent of new car sales today but that’s expected to jump tenfold by 2030).

Not specific to North Carolina, the measure will address the repair backlog of 24,000 buses, 5,000 rail cars and thousands of miles of power and track systems along with expansion of the nationwide freight and passenger rail network.

The House approved the bill on in 228-206 vote, with 13 Republicans crossing party lines. The Senate passed the measure in August 69-30 with North Carolina Republicans Thom Tillis and Richard Burr on board.

Hitting closer to home is the fact it budgets $100 million to provide broadband coverage in North Carolina, and that’s infrastructure that has been sorely lacking in many mountain communities. Combined with the six-year Charter Communications push to bring services to Jackson County, that’s welcome news both from an economic standpoint – robust broadband is critical in the age of information technology – and from an educational standpoint.

It will take us years to learn all the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, but one that was painfully obvious is that remote learning is quite a challenge when a student doesn’t have internet access.

In short, the new infrastructure bill looks to have a lot in it for Western North Carolina.

That’s only right, because there’s a lot of infrastructure here that needs fixing – or creating in the first place.