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On Equitable Infrastructure

The United States is currently seeing historic investments in infrastructure. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), passed in 2021, provides $1.2 trillion in infrastructure investment over eight years and has thus far announced $454 billion for 57,000 infrastructure projects across the country. The law is uniquely extensive, recognizing climate resiliency, energy, broadband and transportation projects under one bill. While several studies have found that infrastructure investments have a “multiplier” effect on job growth and economic output, they also have a history of exacerbating socioeconomic and racial inequality. It is imperative that lawmakers recognize this inequality and take action to alleviate and mitigate it in these new investments.


The federal government has put money toward addressing historic injustice with the Justice40 Initiative, which directs 40% of certain federal projects’s benefits to historically disadvantaged communities, and the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, which invests in communities previously disadvantaged by transportation infrastructure. These programs are a strong start toward dismantling a legacy of injustice in infrastructure and explicitly recognizing the historic nature of this infrastructure inequality. 


For instance, highway construction in the second half of the 20th century displaced and damaged many black communities as well as racially segregating numerous areas. Furthermore, people of color and individuals with lower incomes are more likely to live near highways and thus be more exposed to air and noise pollution. Additionally, areas with larger marginalized and socioeconomically disadvantaged populations tend to receive less public infrastructure investment. Working toward alleviating these historical injustices is an important part of improving and expanding our national infrastructure.


However, there is still room for improvement, such as ensuring new infrastructure projects don't also hurt disadvantaged communities by pricing out families or further segregating areas. There is also the persistent issue of uneven investment, as one report found that lower bureaucratic capacity hinders a county’s ability to win IIJA grants, disproportionately putting grant funding toward wealthier communities. 


In order to address these issues, the federal government can incorporate equity considerations in benefit-cost analyses and better prioritize giving grant funding to lower-income communities. Further investment in the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program could also bolster efforts for more equitable infrastructure, following the large volume of grant applications. Overall, the federal government could strengthen equality efforts and add to the already strong investment transparency of the IIJA by tracking demographic data for projects. By examining demographics for individuals who are both negatively and positively impacted by projects, we can make accountability in the realm of equality more plausible.


Ultimately, despite the long-standing difficulties and complications, this investment in infrastructure is a good thing for combatting inequality and bettering the lives of all Americans. The Biden administration’s explicitly and codified commitment to incorporating equity considerations into new infrastructure also bodes well for the direction of these investments. With empathy, nuance and proper execution, this “infrastructure decade” has the potential to move us toward a more level, and more energized, playing field.


Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

2 Comments


Alexis Berridge
Alexis Berridge
21 hours ago

I'm glad that you covered this topic, and I think I'll be doing more research. I was unaware of how disproportionately infrastructure funds have been distributed.

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Jasmine Rivera
Jasmine Rivera
2 days ago

I love how you tied together equity and infrastructure. I honestly wasn't too familiar the affects that infrastructure had on socioeconomic and racial inequality. I appreciate that you tied it all together by advocating for empathy... which is very needed. I also like how you included the possibility that investment may lead to gentrification displacement and segregation which we have seen time and time again. I think its major that we advocate for modernization of historically black, latino/minority neighborhoods without the implication of raise in rent/change of environment/inhabitants. Everyone deserves a nice, clean, affordable living situation especially in a neighborhood they have roots in. Great piece!

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