Mid-South lawmakers react to signing of $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan

Several Memphis leaders attend signing on White House South Lawn
Published: Nov. 15, 2021 at 9:29 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - After roughly seven months of deliberation and debate in both the White House and on Capitol Hill, President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill was signed into law on the White House South Lawn Monday afternoon.

“Today, we’re finally getting this done,” Biden said during his remarks before signing the bill.

The bill consists of roughly $284 billion in funding for traditional infrastructure like roads, bridges, ports, airports, and railways to name a few.

Mid-South states will be receiving $18 billion of that money for traditional infrastructure projects: Tennessee $7.96B, Arkansas $4.96B, and Mississippi $4.46B.

“This law makes the most significant investment in roads and bridges in the past 70 years,” Biden said. “It makes the most significant investment in passenger rail in the past 50 years and public transit ever.”

Congressman Steve Cohen, who was in attendance of the bill’s signing, said that money will go to state departments of transportation to divvy out the funding, as well as some other portions of funding being dealt out by grant process.

Asking Cohen on when the bill was passed through the House earlier this month, he said it was one of the most exciting moments he’s experienced.

“Just like when the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. It was the second greatest celebration I’ve seen on the floor in the 15 years that I’ve been here,” Cohen said.

The bill also includes $235 billion in utility modernization efforts for broadband and high-speed internet, clean drinking water, and bolstering the power grid.

One point of pride Cohen has on the bill is the update to drunk driving laws, requiring drivers with multiple DUIs to have intoximeters in their vehicles and on their devices to prevent future violations, something Biden mentioned in his remarks when talking about making American roads safer.

“This is something I’ve been working on since I was a state senator in Tennessee, so I was proud to be on the South Lawn and have the President mention my bill that was part of the bill.”

Also among the crowd was TN-29 Senator Raumesh Akbari, who represents parts of Memphis and Shelby County.

Akbari knows all too well the importance of infrastructure funding as the I-40 bridge lies in her district.

“It is huge, right! Memphis is known for being an infrastructure and transportation hub,” said Akbari. “We have rail, we have water, we have road, we have air. To have this type of funding come in to modernize our area, I’m super excited.”

As she returns to Memphis, she’s optimistic that what her district and the rest of the Mid-South will receive won’t be far behind.

“They’re pretty eager to get things started right away, and I’m super excited,” Akbari said. “Congressman Cohen with his leadership, and of course, Jim Strickland were at the bill signing, so I know we have some good stakeholders that will keep their feet to the fire and make sure that things happen pretty quickly for Memphis.”

Senator Bill Hagerty issued a statement Monday against both Biden’s infrastructure plan and the proposed Build Back Better bill.

Cohen, a senior member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told us he’s already spoken with Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, another attendee of the bill’s signing, on projects that need funding in Memphis and how to present them to both the state and federal departments of transportation.

“We’ve got lead pipes in Memphis. They’ll be eliminated. We need broadband in the inner city,” Cohen listed.

“When you see those projects starting in your hometowns, I want you to feel what I feel, pride, pride in what we can do together as the United States of America,” Biden said toward the end of his remarks.

It will certainly be interesting to see where the money ends up in the Mid-South, but for now, leaders like Strickland, Akbari, and Cohen are happy to have the bill signed into law.

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