In November, Congress passed a $1.2 trillion bill to build new and rebuild existing public works systems. For fiscal years 2022 through 2026, the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) includes funding for public transit, passenger rail, interstate systems, bridges, clean drinking water, wastewater infrastructure, clean energy transmission and broadband internet. 

For Texas, this could mean more good jobs, growing the economy, enhancing our competitiveness, and making our modes of commerce more sustainable, resilient and equitable. But none of this can even begin happening until Congress passes appropriations bills for 2022.

Once the fiscal year budget is approved, Congress is also supposed to pass the 12 appropriations bills that actually fund government operations before the fiscal year begins — although the last time all appropriations bills were actually passed on time was fiscal year 1997. Nearly halfway into fiscal year 2022, Congress has passed none of the 12 appropriations bills.

But Texas can’t wait to start on necessary infrastructure improvements. Texas added the most residents of any state in 2021— about 850 people per day according to the United States Census. That growth, along with the aging state of our existing infrastructure, has real-world consequences for public health, quality of life, and the safe and efficient movement of people and goods. 

Each year, the Texas Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers issues a report card on the state’s infrastructure. The most recent report for 2021 gives Texas an overall grade of C, with the lowest grades in highways and roads (D+), levees (D) and wastewater (D). Clearly, there is a need for improvements that can’t continue to be postponed.

For San Antonio and other fast-growing areas of the state, IIJA funds could be used to make meaningful investments in our bridges and roadways, public transit, the San Antonio International Airport, flood control, and wastewater projects to make our city more resilient.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. A Dec. 13 letter Gov. Greg Abbott sent to all state agencies cautioned them not to sign any agreements that would commit the state to future unfunded costs or require an agency to agree to a federal policy contrary to the law or policy of the state of Texas. Because IIJA envisions state co-investment in many programs, only certain pieces of the act are fully funded.

Surface transportation program funding happens in two phases. IIJA authorizes the funds, and then Congress must appropriate those funds in an annual appropriations bill that sets the annual “obligation,” or spending limits, that essentially unlocks the authorized funds. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has notified the states of their authorized amounts, but the state departments of transportation cannot technically spend all of the funds until Congress passes an appropriations bill for 2022, which still has not happened. 

Additionally, when the appropriations bills do pass, they may reflect the desires of those in Washington rather than the needs of locals. For instance, a recent memo issued by the FHWA advises that project proposals should be set aside if they call for new or expanded highways. This reflects the preference of the Biden administration to support mass transit and address issues of climate change and environmental justice at the expense of traditional highway projects. Some areas of the country, including the densely populated Northeast corridor, will likely benefit from this. But a fast-growing, large state like Texas that has more than 3,000 miles of interstate highways — more than any other state — will come out on the losing end.

While we wait to see the fate of IIJA, San Antonio infrastructure received a slight nod of investment from the American Rescue Plan Act‘s nearly $14 million to repair bridges and the city’s worst streets. An additional $10 million for the Texas Biomedical Research Institute and $10.5 milllion for Morgan’s Wonderland can be claimed as an investment in infrastructure.

As more and more people move to our state, Texas is facing a major infrastructure challenge. Our leaders in Washington need to pass the fiscal year 2022 appropriations and remove other barriers that will allow our state to take advantage of the badly needed infrastructure investments in IIJA.

Gary Raba

Gary W. Raba, is chief growth officer at Raba Kistner, Inc., an engineering consulting and program management firm based in San Antonio, and senior vice chair of the American Council of Engineering Companies....