President Joe Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan seeks to spend $2.25 trillion on improvements to the nation’s infrastructure: roads, bridges, airports, utilities, schools, and hospitals. 

Though the legislation likely won’t make it out of Congress until at least late summer, the City of San Antonio is making plans to go after its piece of the pie, prioritizing projects for not only the infrastructure bill but other new federal funding opportunities.

“This is a very exciting time for local governments across the country,” said Sally Basurto, federal administrator of the City’s intergovernmental relations division, who with Jeff Coyle, director of government and public affairs, presented Wednesday to the Council’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee. 

Almost two weeks after the president announced his infrastructure and jobs plan on April 1, the administration released infrastructure report cards on each of the 50 states. Texas got a C for, among other factors, its nearly 20,000 miles of highway and over 800 bridges that are in “poor condition” and the 11.4% increase in commute times since 2011. 

“This is an infrastructure package that’s much bigger than just transportation,” Coyle said of Biden’s plan. “This is housing and green energy and water and wastewater. So we’ll be looking at all the various categories that ultimately get in the bill and trying to line up projects locally that makes sense for them.”

As the nation and San Antonio officials wait for funding through what would be a historic infrastructure bill, other new opportunities are becoming available, Basurto said. Those include Community Project Funding, the Fiscal Year 2022 Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act, and the Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant.

After House Democrats resurrected earmarks in February, the City’s Transportation Department has been reviewing and dissecting Congressional guidance for such requests, Basurto said. 

Under the federal rules, elected officials can submit 10 funding requests for state, local, and nonprofit organizations as long as they can demonstrate community support for the project and it can be completed within one year. 

But the funding is limited and the criteria narrow. Projects must qualify under specific program funding streams such as the Justice Assistance Grant, Federal Emergency Management Agency mitigation grants, and Housing and Urban Development’s economic development initiatives.

“It’ll be highly competitive to get this funding ultimately but that has not held us back,” Basurto said. 

City projects that qualify for Community Project Funding include a $300,000 ask for emergency kits for vulnerable populations; a $750,000 to $1 million request to expand the police department’s mental health unit, and a $1 million to $2 million need for equity-based home expansion and rental preservation program. 

“These projects align with our housing, public safety enhancements, and our emergency preparedness – top priorities included in our current federal legislative program that the full council approved in January of this year,” Basurto said. 

Other projects that qualify for Community Project Funding include several City partners’ infrastructure improvement needs. They include road reconstruction work at Brooks ($9.5 million), the San Antonio River Authority’s Westside creeks project ($2.3 million), the San Antonio Water System’s Mitchell Lake study and generators (pending amount), magnetic resonance imaging equipment for Texas Biomed ($1.5 million), and the University of Texas at San Antonio’s cybersecurity initiatives ($2 million). 

“[In] the Congressional guidance, we did not receive anything in writing or any specific parameters about the funding amount, so it’s kind of like a guessing game,” Basurto said, noting “they are going to receive millions and millions of dollars of requests” and be able to fund only a fraction of those.

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure also has very specific parameters and will be highly competitive, Basurto said. Requests must be submitted by members of Congress, ranking their top five, and also must already be listed in the local Transportation Improvement Plan

Projects that will be recommended to City Council are those the newly formed Transportation Department considers nationally competitive. “We have to be able to compete with communities all over the country for this funding, so we needed to make sure to check all those boxes,” she said. 

The City’s newly formed Transportation Department, led by Director Tomika Monterville, has identified projects that the City believes will resonate with the administration and with Congress, and that involve safety, equity, economic development, and environmental stewardship, Basurto said.

In the past, this bill allowed for only programs to be submitted, said Coyle. But now individual projects can be considered. 

The projects the City will submit to members of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee include improvements to Presa Street ($10 million), Zarzamora Street at Frio City Road ($23 million), and Broadway Street ($14 million). 

Basurto also told committee members that the American Jobs Plan could include making improvements to roads, bridges, and airports; upgrading utility systems and broadband; building new homes and commercial buildings; and modernizing schools, child care facilities, and hospitals.

But as that bill works its way through Congress, the City is already anticipating and planning for other federal infrastructure funding opportunities, Coyle said. 

“That’s a major focus by the federal government right now, and so we’re having a series of conversations with our partners in the community and then ultimately with the Council about what sorts of projects we could send up to Washington for potential funding. And it can come in all different forms.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.