Formally, it’s known as the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, or IIJA for short.
The $1.2 trillion law – yes, trillion! – provides funding for everything from rural broadband access to lead pipe replacements. But transportation, the legislation’s centerpiece, is shaping up to have the biggest impact here in metro Atlanta.
In the three months since President Biden signed the law, transportation planners at the Atlanta Regional Commission have been digging into the legislation to find out what could be in store for mobility in metro Atlanta.
Given the law’s scope and complexity, we put together a primer. There’s a lot to take in, so buckle up!
Federal Transportation Funding to Almost Double Nationally
Nationally, the law provides an additional $274 billion in federal transportation funding between 2022 and 2026. If you factor in the transportation dollars previously allocated during those years, total federal funding for transportation will double, to $567.5 billion.
Where will the new money go? Broadly speaking, there are two buckets:
- Existing programs that help fund everything from transit expansion and highway upgrades to bike-ped projects, ports and even Amtrak.
- Newly created programs that cover things like climate change, equity, ‘complete streets’ projects that accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit, in addition to cars.
How Many More Dollars Will Come to Metro Atlanta?
The short answer: we don’t know yet with any specificity, but it’s safe to say that more money is headed our way.
Here’s what we do know:
- The law increases funding for so-called “formula” programs that allocate dollars to states and local governments based on certain factors, such as population, that vary based on the program.
- Annual formula funding in Georgia is set to increase by about $400 million, for a total of more than $1.75 billion.
- The law also increases funding for competitive, discretionary programs, so we’ll have to compete against others around the state and country. May the best project win.
What Projects May be Headed to Metro Atlanta?
IIJA is a potential game-changer for the region.
Consider that only a relatively small percentage of the projects in the region’s long-range transportation plan, maintained by ARC, can be funded each year. That leaves a long list of projects patiently waiting for funding, sometimes for decades.
The passage of IIJA means projects could move up the queue and finally get off the ground, greatly accelerating their timetables. This includes road and highway improvements, bike-ped projects, transit expansion, and much more.
So, what specific projects are we talking about? It’s guesswork at this point, as local and state officials will have to prioritize where to invest the new funding. But the prospects certainly are exciting.
For a taste of what’s possible, here are some resources to check out:
- ARC’s Regional Transportation Plan, which provides a lengthy list of projects across metro Atlanta that are both funded and awaiting funding.
- More MARTA, which details planned transit expansions in the City of Atlanta. The agency also has plans to expand transit service in Clayton County.
There Must be a Catch, Right?
Well, sort of. The bill maintains the required “local match” for federal transportation projects. That is, the federal government will fund 80% of the cost of most projects, with the rest of the tab picked up by state or local governments or other entities such as Community Improvement Districts. For some transit projects, the local match can reach 50% or even 60%.
To find the dollars needed for a local match, governments may have to consider moving money from elsewhere in their budgets or even approving special transportation sales taxes. Either way, it could present a major challenge.
What’s New in the IJAA?
The infrastructure bill funds several initiatives designed to improve air quality and public health while also addressing climate change, as well as to address equity issues created by past construction projects. This includes:
- Building a nationwide network of electric vehicle charging stations. This includes funding to deploy e-vehicle chargers along major highways.
- Helping public transit agencies replace buses with clean, zero-emission vehicles.
- Investing $1 billion nationwide through the “Reconnecting Communities” pilot program to address the problems caused when freeways were built through neighborhoods.
In metro Atlanta, several proposed projects could potentially qualify for the Reconnecting Communities program include: “The Stitch,” which aims to build new greenspace atop a ¾-mile platform atop I-75/I-85 in downtown Atlanta; the Midtown Connector project, which would build a highly engineered “cap” of greenspace and trails above I-75/85 in Midtown Atlanta, reconnecting the east and west sides of Midtown; and Hub404, which would build a multi-purpose, 9-acre greenspace above Ga. 400 and MARTA’s Buckhead rail station.
What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.