Infrastructure deal could significantly improve life in the US territories

by Aug 17, 2021Congress, Headlines0 comments

On August 11, the Senate voted 69-30 for HR 3684—a landmark piece of bipartisan infrastructure legislation. Allotting $1.2 trillion to long-term infrastructure improvements, it represents a comprehensive national plan for revamping the United States’s transport, water, energy, housing, and internet systems.

The promises created by the new infrastructure deal hold immense relevance for the US territories. In April, Puerto Rico’s infrastructure received a score of “D-” on the White House’s state infrastructure Fact Sheet—the lowest in the country. The score ranking emphasizes Puerto Rico’s existing transportation challenges. In the territory, 282 bridges and over 1,492 miles of highway exist in “poor condition.” HR 3684 allocates $900,000,000 for the Puerto Rico highway system, including financing for road rebuilding, public transportation investment, bridge repair and replacement, and electric vehicle charging. 

Internet services also remain largely inaccessible on the islands, with 13% of Puerto Ricans living in areas with no readily accessible broadband and 40% of families possessing no internet subscription. The infrastructure deal’s inclusion of $100 million to broadband services split amongst the territories could reduce Puerto Rico’s current digital divide. Simultaneously, the deal’s historic investment in lead pipe removal and improvements to water access could remedy the Puerto Rican water system’s $3.7 billion funding need in upcoming years. 

Puerto Rico’s governor, Pedro Pierluisi (NPP, D), has repeatedly advocated for increased federal infrastructure investments on the islands. In March, the governor declared a “state of emergency” on Puerto Rico’s infrastructure to accelerate the completion of “priority” initiatives. In a US House Committee on Natural Resources hearing, he testified to the need to “work together with Congress and the [Biden] Administration to ensure that Puerto Rico’s critical infrastructure and coastal habitats are rebuilt in ways that increase our capacity and resiliency to withstand any future natural disasters, in particular, promoting the transformation of our electric grid and power generation structure.” Now, the deal may offer the funding necessary to develop that collaboration. 

Proponents of the new infrastructure deal stress its significance to national climate change mitigation and adaptation. Featuring investment for a nationwide network of Electric Vehicle (EV) chargers, enhanced environmentally efficient transportation, and clean energy, its spending prioritizes creating an infrastructure system that will prevent and withstand climatic changes. Puerto Rico will receive 15% of funds from the National Highway Performance Program to mitigate repair costs from natural disasters and to restore ecosystems on public or federal land.  

The deal’s environmental implications are also interconnected with the infrastructure needs of Guam, where rising temperatures have already begun to impact the island’s sea levels and coastal infrastructure. 

While Guam was not included in the Biden Administration’s statewide infrastructure review, it possesses similar infrastructural challenges the deal could alleviate. Since April, Guam Delegate Michael San Nicolas (D) has been working to secure portions of federal infrastructure spending to build new housing in the territory, particularly for people with disabilities and senior citizens. 

The infrastructure deal now heads to the House, which has returned from recess to debate the new plan in the context of the national budget