Building First State roads to last

For as long as I can remember, Congress has passed multiyear bills that fund our traditional surface transportation programs, like building and maintaining our roads and bridges. But this year, given the reality of our changing climate and its impacts, a status quo bill was no longer enough. That’s why, as top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I worked hard to make sure the next transportation bill would include programs to address the resiliency needs of our infrastructure and to help make sure we’re reducing the emissions fueling the climate crisis.

Delaware is the lowest lying state in the country. Our state is sinking and the seas around us are rising. The climate crisis and its impacts pose a real threat to Delawareans’ way of life, especially along our coasts.

As many Delawareans know all too well, our roads and bridges are often on the front lines of the climate crisis.

Yesterday, I joined officials from the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) to get a first-hand look at this problem in all three counties. We started our day at the flood-prone Army Creek Bridge just south of Dobbinsville, which closes two to three times each month due to flooding, inconveniencing travelers or even putting them at risk.

We continued on to Port Mahon road in Little Creek, where we’re fighting a losing battle with Mother Nature but hopefully learning important lessons in building more resilient infrastructure. We then stopped in Lewes to see a bridge on New Road that’s frequently flooded. Although it’s part of an evacuation route, it doesn’t take a hurricane or Nor’easter to put the bridge out of commission. We finished our tour in Oak Orchard, an underserved community not far from Millsboro, where we saw drivers slowing to avoid the standing water on the road from the Indian River Bay.

Climate impacts, including sea level rise, are challenging communities in these four locations, throughout Delaware, and across the nation. This hurts our economy, impedes job creation, and makes our communities less safe.

America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (ATIA), which I co-authored and introduced last month, would make a historic $287 billion investment in our surface transportation. This reauthorization bill includes the first ever climate title, an investment of $10 billion to ensure our nation’s crumbling roads and bridges are rebuilt for the future, and are able to endure our new climate reality.

ATIA creates new programs that will enhance our state’s resiliency against extreme weather. This includes a new program that will provide $15 million to the First State to protect Delawareans’ roads, highways, and bridges from natural disasters and extreme weather events. State and local agencies like DelDOT will also be able to compete for $1 billion in funding from a new resiliency grant program —some of the projects we toured yesterday may be eligible for that funding.

At the same time, ATIA also helps take meaningful steps toward reducing the very emissions that fuel global warming. Delaware alone will receive almost $12 million from a new carbon emission reduction program for projects to encourage low or no emission modes of transportation.

ATIA also invests billions in building electric vehicle and alternative fuel charging infrastructure – which could support Delaware’s ambitious plans to install electric vehicle charging infrastructure at all train stations and park & rides throughout the state.

In addition to addressing climate change, this bipartisan bill provides funding to upgrade roads and bridges to boost safety and help America compete in the 21st century economy. Overall, I was proud to help secure over a billion dollars in funding for Delaware to improve mobility, including funds for bike lanes, sidewalks, roadway safety, and easing congestion.

In July, this bill passed out of the EPW Committee by a vote of 21-0 – illustrating the widespread, bipartisan support for this ambitious package.

Yesterday’s tour made it clear: As we look to improve our nation’s infrastructure systems, we must do more than just repair what’s broken. We have to stop throwing good money after bad, and ensure that our infrastructure is built to last.

I’m excited to get back to Washington next month to keep pushing this bill across the finish line.

Tom Carper