As the nation’s economy looks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, states are positioned to maximize the benefits from infrastructure investments.
by Thomas Curtin, Program Director, Infrastructure
As the nation passes the one-year mark of living with COVID-19, Governors are reflecting on the resiliency of their citizens and laying out ambitious agendas for the future in their annual State of the State addresses. Along with actions to expand access to broadband for underserved communities, Governors are highlighting infrastructure as a critical and urgent priority that will contribute to the larger recovery of their states’ economies.
Infrastructure Supporting State Economies
Throughout the pandemic, the nation’s critical infrastructure has been essential to providing services and supporting state economies. Bus and train operators remain on the job, ensuring access to jobs and health care despite drastically reduced ridership. Airport, port and freight workers continue to deliver cargo and sustain vital supply chains. And utilities are working to provide service and avoid shutoffs despite millions of Americans being unable to pay their bills.
These essential services have underscored the importance of investing in infrastructure, and as the national conversation begins to turn towards economic recovery, Governors are emphasizing the role that maintaining and improving these assets can also serve for creating jobs and generating economic activity.
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb touted his state’s work to move forward on improvements to Interstate 69, “the longest new interstate project in the country… three years ahead of schedule.” He highlighted that, “Indiana’s not only the Crossroads of America. We’re also the Cross Rails of America. We’re steaming ahead with two of our country’s biggest public transit rail projects, with well over a billion dollars invested.”
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey discussed the “Rebuild Alabama” initiative to “improve safety, increase efficiency and support commerce” on state roads. A large part of this effort moving forward will be expanding the road network to “provide interstate connectivity and economic development opportunities” for rural counties.
Vermont Governor Phil Scott pointed to several continuing investments that will sustain communities and the economy in the Green Mountain State, from airport and industrial area improvements to traffic safety projects, roadway projects and electric buses. Plus: “an additional $3.5 million paired with $1.5 million from the General Fund to boost our Downtown Transportation Fund. This money goes to projects that make downtowns more accessible, bringing more customers to their businesses, reducing carbon emissions and improving safety.”
In Missouri, Governor Mike Parson highlighted that “the Missouri Department of Transportation continued to move critical projects forward despite the challenges of the past year. All told, nearly 550 projects took place across the state that injected approximately one billion dollars back into Missouri’s construction industry and economy.” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer pointed to the fact that her state’s $500 million investment in Michigan’s water infrastructure supports more than 7,500 Michigan jobs. And in Kansas, Governor Laura Kelly noted that, “As we speak, more than 160 state highway and local road projects are under construction or about to be. And another 230 projects have been awarded for future construction. That’s better roads, better bridges, walking and biking paths. A more modern transportation infrastructure from top to bottom – and that’s a lot of jobs.”
Infrastructure investments can play a key role in workforce recovery, representing an opportunity to close disparities in the workforce and create millions of jobs. As noted by Gov. Parson, “You can’t emphasize workforce development without infrastructure. They go hand-in-hand, and we must continue to invest in both in order to succeed.” For additional information on how Governors and state leaders can respond holistically to the unemployment crisis as well as to recover and build resilience in the post-pandemic economy, visit NGA’s State Roadmap for Workforce Recovery.
Investing for the Long Term
The nation’s Governors are keenly aware that these continued investments will yield immeasurable results in the long term, and wherever possible, are doubling down on those investments. Idaho Governor Brad Little recognized the imperative of acting on transportation infrastructure during these times, because “a dependable transportation system is fundamental to commerce.” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy touted historic transportation investments in the Garden State, noting investments in roads and bridges, rail, airports and seaports “will reap tremendous returns for our economy, create good-paying New Jersey jobs, and attract new and innovative companies to the state that want a world-class infrastructure system.”
As co-chair of NGA’s Task Force on Economic Recovery and Revitalization, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear is ready to “step up to the plate” to invest in his state’s transportation infrastructure, noting that doing so “will create jobs and stimulate the economy immediately, even as it encourages future growth.”
Fellow task force co-chair and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster highlighted investments in the Port of Charleston, where investments in channel depth and a new intermodal container transfer facility will be the catalyst for sustained economic growth. As a result, “Cargo business will skyrocket with new and expanded rail access, traffic congestion will be eased in the Lowcountry and new jobs and investment will flow across the state.”
Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont charted his state’s infrastructure-driven path to recovery: “In this coming year, we will be expanding our commitment to affordable housing, access to broadband, transit-oriented development, open choice school incentives, as well as an expansion of our workforce development and small business growth fund. That’s how we get Connecticut growing again.”
Integrating Infrastructure to Better Serve the Public
These investments reflect how states are making forward-thinking investments that integrate various forms of infrastructure to reap numerous benefits. In Nevada, Governor Steve Sisolak pledged to work with the legislature “to pass a bold energy bill establishing our commitment to increased transmission, storage and distribution of all forms of clean energy.” He noted that doing so “will create good paying construction jobs starting this year and help in our fight against climate change. This bill will attract and develop a variety of new industries, including electric vehicle infrastructure, component manufacturing and lithium mining.”
Supporting the increased reliance on outdoor recreation amid the pandemic, Indiana Governor Holcomb also highlighted the importance of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure: “From old, abandoned trails converted into new hiking and biking trails, we’re well on our way to building one of the most trail-friendly states in America, which is the kind of amenity that keeps people coming to explore Indiana. That’s why we’re re-starting our $90 million state investment in community trails in every corner of the state to move us toward an even more interconnected system.”
In Hawaiʻi, Governor David Ige is investing with a comprehensive land use and housing strategy “to build affordable leasehold homes, particularly around the rail line” and is taking “a sweeping look at how we generate affordable housing — from financing through construction.” He noted that in Hawaiʻi, “[t]here are at least four agencies involved in housing that could benefit from better coordination and economies of scale.”
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker summed up his state’s cross-sectoral efforts, along with the need to make additional progress: “There’s no question more needs to be done – on environmental justice, transportation, resiliency, conservation and energy efficiency. And we look forward to working with our legislative colleagues to make this happen.” Noting the changes in daily life that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Baker observed the need to “create the community building, housing, economic development and transportation programs that align with these changes.”
Ongoing Support Needed to Recover from COVID and Deliver Modern Infrastructure
As the nation’s economy looks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, states are positioned to maximize the benefits from infrastructure investments. Major investments in roads, bridges, public transit, broadband, housing, public utilities, and our physical and online education and health care systems will result in high-paying, sustainable jobs and revitalize communities hit hardest by the pandemic. Governors are taking bold actions to deliver innovative solutions, and NGA will continue to provide resources and work with federal partners to help states carry out critical improvements to our nation’s infrastructure.