High-speed internet. Road upgrades. Electric vehicle chargers. What the infrastructure bill could mean for Arizonans

Potholes and rough pavement pepper Navajo Trail in Pima County, near the Cochise County border, on Jan. 30, 2020.
Yvonne Wingett Sanchez
Arizona Republic

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that could pass the U.S. Senate by this weekend would have enormous implications for Arizona, a state where brick-and-mortar needs haven’t kept pace with fast growth. 

The eye-popping spending may be hard to comprehend. But it could translate into repairs to streets that threaten to take out your van’s undercarriage, or widen roadways that get you to your weekend getaway. 

In the coming years, the money could mean new buses to carry kids to school. It could mean faster and affordable internet for those in far-flung areas of Arizona — and those living in urban areas — left behind as the world has increased its dependency on the internet for health needs, shopping and schooling.

Infrastructure projects aren't what most people think about but are vitally important to Arizonans as they go about their lives.

Projects could be underway as soon as next year if the legislation is passed and signed into law by President Joe Biden before the end of the year. 

The Senate’s legislation, co-brokered by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, could change through the amendment process. And the House of Representatives must pass an identical version for it to become law.

But the basic shape of the consensus bill is expected to remain unchanged. 

On Wednesday, the White House summarized the 2,072-page bipartisan infrastructure deal and spelled out what the legislation would mean for each state, including Arizona. 

The numbers from the Biden administration are initial estimates. Spokespeople for Sinema and Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., project the amount of money Arizona could draw from the legislation could be higher on several fronts. In particular, Sinema’s office anticipates the state could see much more money than the administration estimates on access to broadband.

“The figures released today are just a preview of how much Arizona stands to gain in new jobs and new economic opportunities when we get this historic, bipartisan bill signed into law,” Sinema said in a statement to The Arizona Republic.

The $1.2 trillion deal contains $550 billion of new spending over five years and relies in part on extending fees and reallocating some unused COVID-19 relief money rather than raising taxes. 

On Thursday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its analysis of the bill, determining the legislation would not pay for itself, as senators have said. Instead, analysts determined it would increase federal budget deficits by $256 billion over a decade.  

The White House projects the bill could create about 2 million jobs each year in the coming decade. 

From improvements to Arizona water systems to its ports of entry along the border with Mexico, here are 11 ways the legislation could affect Arizona, according to the legislation, the White House, Sinema and Kelly:

Repairs to roads and bridges

Arizona has 132 bridges and more than 3,100 miles of highway in poor condition. Commute times in the state have increased by 11% since 2011 and, on average, drivers pay $614 a year in costs from driving on roads that need repairs. 

Based on formula funding alone, Arizona could receive at minimum $5 billion and another $225 million to repair roads and bridges over five years. On top of that, the state could compete for a lot more money for major roadway projects or to improve “economically significant bridges.”

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Connections to high-speed internet

The package aims to make broadband more accessible and affordable for rural and low-income families, an issue that has taken on greater urgency in recent years for federal, state, local and tribal officials in Arizona.

About 13% of Arizona households don’t have internet, and 5% of Arizonans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure. Even where that infrastructure is available, broadband could be too costly.

Arizona would receive at least $100 million to broaden broadband coverage across the state, including providing access to at least 353,000 residents who do not have it. Under the legislation, an estimated 1.8 million Arizonans would be eligible for a program to help low-income families afford internet access. 

Network of electric vehicle chargers

Electric vehicles seem to be the way of the future, but how practical are they to road-trip long distances? The legislation would spend $7.5 billion to build out the first-ever national network of electric vehicle chargers as a way to try to accelerate use of the vehicles and help cut down on the climate crisis by reducing use of fossil fuels while creating manufacturing jobs. 

Arizona could expect to receive $76 million over five years to support the charging network expansion. The state also could compete for additional grant funding dedicated to electric vehicle charging. 

Airport improvements

Airports big and small would receive hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade air traffic control towers, runways and taxiways, and to address safety issues. Airport terminals in Phoenix, Tucson, and Mesa could get face-lifts. 

Every airport in Arizona would receive money, according to an analysis provided by Sinema's office. Phoenix Sky Harbor International, which moved 46 million passengers in 2019 before the pandemic, would receive about $217 million over five years. Tucson International would receive $32 million. Phoenix-Mesa Gateway would get $23 million, and Grand Canyon National Park Airport would receive about $11.3 million. Smaller airports from Chinle to Wickenburg to Bisbee would get an estimated $550,000. 

Improved public transportation options

The bill would improve public transportation, in part by upgrading buses, rail cars, stations and accessibility for the elderly and those with disabilities.

Arizonans who use public transportation spend an extra 90% of their time commuting, according to the White House. Non-white households are two times more likely to commute via buses, light rail or other public transportation.

Arizona would receive $883 million over five years based on formula funding.

A Tempe streetcar vehicle is tested overnight on the Valley Metro light rail tracks near the 50th and Washington streets station in Phoenix.

Updates to aging dams, canals, aqueducts and pumping plants

The bill contains $3.2 billion for the maintenance of water infrastructure projects across the Western U.S in need of major upgrades or replacement.

The legislation would fully fund more than 150 projects in Arizona and the greater Yuma region.

Sanitation in tribal communities

The bill would improve sanitation for an estimated 15,000 Navajo homes and thousands of other homes in tribal communities across Arizona. It provides $3.5 billion to fully pay for the backlog of infrastructure projects for all Indian Health Service-operated water and wastewater facilities in tribal communities.

Ports of entry at the Arizona-Mexico border

The San Luis Port of Entry and Douglas Port of Entry would get long-awaited upgrades under the legislation. Those improvements are expected to improve border security and speed up wait times at the border for tourists and trucks carrying goods between the two countries. The projects, which total an estimated $550 million between them, would be fully funded through the bill.

Drought Contingency Plan

The legislation includes $250 million to fully fund the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, the blueprint for shortage sharing built around water levels in Lake Mead, the giant reservoir on the Arizona-Nevada border that has sunk to near-record low levels after decades of drought. The bill provides another $50 million for drought mitigation related to Lake Powell and the Upper Basin of the Colorado River.

The bill also contains $500 million for the Western Area Power Administration, which provides electrical power in 15 states, to recover losses from declining hydropower generation at Hoover Dam, Glen Canyon Dam and Parker-Davis Dam due to drought. 

A high water mark is visible on the shoreline of Lake Mead at Hoover Dam.

Forest restoration, wildfire management

The bill includes $20 million for Southwest Ecological Restoration Institutes, which include Northern Arizona University, to help with forest restoration projects. The institutes work to help create healthy forests, prevent wildfires, sustain the resiliencies of water supplies for wildfires and create jobs, according to its site.

The bill includes $8.25 billion for wildfire management, including money for programs to help reduce hazardous fuels on federal, state and tribal lands.

Indian water rights settlements

The bill provides $2.5 billion to fully pay for enacted Indian water rights settlements that have for years been waiting on Congress for the funding to complete related tribal water infrastructure projects.

The funding includes settlements for the Gila River Indian Community, the Tohono O'odham Nation and the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

A key challenge facing new settlements, according to congressional researchers, is the availability of federal funds to implement ongoing and future agreements.

Have news to share about Arizona politics? Reach the reporter on Twitter and Facebook. Contact her at yvonne.wingett@arizonarepublic.com and 602-444-4712.

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