What does the hotly debated federal infrastructure bill mean for the future of Maine? While the $1.2 trillion package makes the rounds in the House after successfully passing in the Senate by a 69-30 margin, the billions in funding look to provide a variety of quality-of-life improvements for the state and its residents. This proposed spending, a product of significant bipartisan cooperation, will make a world of difference to the majority of roads and bridges that haven’t been updated in decades. Beyond what many consider to be ‘infrastructure’ in the traditional sense, the bill will seriously address the ways in which that definition has changed since the 20th century, including funding for a national broadband network as well as a system of charging stations in anticipation of a future influx of electric vehicles.
All in all, the state of Maine is expected to receive as much as $1.9 billion total in federal funding from this package. The vast majority of that, $1.3 billion, will be dedicated to a wide variety of repairs and upgrades for long-neglected roads and highways within the state. Those grants will additionally be directed toward repairs for state bridges as well as the construction of new ones, to the tune of $225 million. Assuming the bill becomes law, Maine’s Department of Transportation should receive a $50 million funding increase during its first year, a much-needed raise for a state with a highway system that was underfunded by nearly $200 million in 2020. “We look forward to seeing the details in the coming weeks,” said Bruce Van Note, who works as the agency’s Transportation Commissioner. Van Note is excited about how this provision could impact his department’s ability to “deliver the safest and most reliable transportation possible for all Maine people” according to a statement.
On top of that funding, the state is expected to be eligible to compete for a number of federal bridge and highway grant programs. These programs are massive in their own right– highway grants total $16 billion in additional funding and bridge grants are as much as $12.5 billion– and are there to be doled out on a discretionary basis depending on state-by-state needs. In sum, the roughly $1.5 billion promised to Maine for roads, highways and bridges could just be the beginning of a sustained federal partnership if the state were to demonstrate a greater need than previously anticipated. This ensures that various state-to-state funding disparities that come out of this bill aren’t dismissing Maine in favor of a state like Wisconsin, for example.
Of the remaining funding, the majority is anticipated to come split between electric vehicle infrastructure grants and broadband internet expansion grants. Approximately $19 million is being earmarked for building out a robust network of charging ports for electric vehicles. This should double the current amount of charging stations throughout Maine and will be more than necessary considering the inevitable proliferation of battery-powered vehicles across the country in the coming decades. With 5,000 electric vehicles currently in use on Maine roads, this expansion will up the state’s capacity to 35,000, a seven-fold increase.
In what looks to be the standard for most states, a final $100 million will go towards growing the broadband network throughout Maine. This money will be allocated to the recently created Maine Connectivity Authority, which will work to ensure that the funding goes towards providing a stable internet connection to rural communities that lack reliability. Currently, as many as 83,000 households within the state are without high-speed internet, which makes up a whopping 15 percent of the state. Governor Janet Mills stressed the importance of broadband expansion to underserved communities in a recent statement, and that a more robust network would “usher in new opportunities to strengthen our economy, connect our people, and build a better, brighter future.”