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Washington lawmaker explains how the infrastructure bill impacts us all

Workers repair a park near the Capitol in Washington on July 21, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Will there be an agreement on the infrastructure bill in Congress? Congressman Derek Kilmer, who represents Washington’s 6th District, is hopeful.

“It appears white smoke has begun emanating from the United States Senate,” Rep. Derek Kilmer told Seattle’s Morning News. “Now, we are a bicameral legislative branch. And so obviously the House will need to weigh in on this as well. But it’s good news that we’re seeing forward motion on infrastructure.”

“I’m very hopeful that we’ll see something make it across the finish line here because we need to,” he added. “American Society of Civil Engineers graded out American infrastructure at a C minus.”

As an example, Kilmer pointed out that the surface transportation bill that was passed out of the House includes funding for roads in proximity to schools, like Whitman and Edison elementary schools in Tacoma.

“Once every eight days, a student at a Tacoma public school has an incident with an automobile. Creating safe routes to schools, that’s infrastructure,” Kilmer said. “I was down in Aberdeen, and anybody who’s visited Aberdeen or lives in Aberdeen has likely been stuck in traffic as a train rolls through town. There’s not rail separation between the road and the rail, and that creates congestion, and it means that there’s not emergency access to the main commercial area there. God forbid, if something goes wrong.”

“There are real safety concerns. And so in the House transportation bill, we were actually able to include funding for a highway rail separation. That’s infrastructure!,” Kilmer added. “And in Kitsap County, the main route in through Gorst, the Gorst corridor, is the main route into the naval shipyard. Anyone who’s driven through there knows that the speed limit signs are only there for nostalgic purposes because you’re just sitting in traffic. There is funding for the Gorst corridor in the infrastructure bill. So that’s what we’re talking about here and that’s why it matters.”

Ross: US infrastructure won’t maintain itself

KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross asked why the federal government has to get involved, and if road maintenance shouldn’t be a state responsibility.

“To some degree, this is about our national competitiveness,” Kilmer replied. “The ability to move people, the ability to move freight, our investments in our ports, all get at issues of American competitiveness. This is about jobs.”

“The other thing that I would mention is, historically, Democrats and Republicans have acknowledged that investments in infrastructure are valuable for two reasons,” he continued. “One, because they put people to work now, and given the strain that our economy has been through over the course of last year, that’s really important. But second, they laid the foundation for economic opportunity over the long haul.”

This infrastructure package, Kilmer explains, is also trying to solve problems “not just on the state of Washington’s nickel.”

“We’ve seen — particularly when we had that huge heat wave — we’ve seen really scary news about the die off of salmon populations from rising water temperatures. And we know in our region that we’ve had deteriorating infrastructure and failing culverts that have not just had a negative impact on water quality, but that have threatened salmon,” Kilmer said. “And so in the infrastructure bill, we included a bipartisan amendment to create a new grant program within the U.S. DOT for culvert restoration, and providing some money for it, a substantial amount of money for it.”

In this case, that means having the federal government pick up at least part of the tab for these investments, which Kilmer says is a big deal for local taxpayers and for meeting some of the economic needs of our region.

“And it’s a big deal for our environmental value of trying to restore our salmon,” he noted.

Kilmer also says he’s not worried that this bill is going to ignite inflation, which is a concern that some have raised.

“I think everybody is keeping a close eye on the economic analysis, and what we’ve seen, including an analysis from Moody’s just last week, is that the economic upside of this far outweighs the inflationary concerns,” he said.

He does hope, however, that there comes a time when the market will be healthy enough that, as Dave describes, “good businesses will thrive and bad businesses will wither and everybody who wants a job can get one.”

“I sure hope so,” he said about that future. “… Where I see a legitimate role for the federal government is to ensure that those ingredients are there, things like workforce, and infrastructure, and access to broadband, and roads and bridges. Historically, Democrats and Republicans have been able to agree that there is a legitimate role for government to address those issues, so that if someone is an entrepreneur with a cool idea for their business that they can compete.”

“There are communities that have been left behind, and while many of your listeners may be in communities that are doing very well, I can tell you as they travel around the state, and certainly as I travel around my district, I think you should have economic opportunity regardless of what zip code you live in,” he said.

Kilmer thinks President Biden’s goal to build back better is necessary.

“When I hear President Biden talk about building back better, what I think I hear him saying is an acknowledgement that there were communities that were not exactly rocking and rolling before any of us had even heard of COVID,” he said. “And that it’s not enough to just say, ‘well, let’s go back to the way it was pre-COVID,’ but rather that we need to make sure we’re providing some help to these communities.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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