Technology & Innovation

118th Congress: Infrastructure

01.12.23 | 4 min read | Text by Andy Gordon & Aleksandra Srdanovic

America’s infrastructure is in disrepair and our transportation system has failed to keep pace with usage, technology and maintenance needs. As a result, 43% of public roadways are in poor or mediocre condition, roadway fatalities reached nearly 43,000 last year, and logistics and supply chain systems are ill-prepared for the increasing stresses caused by pandemics, international conflicts, and extreme weather events. In addition, our nation’s water supply system is plagued by aged infrastructure such as lead pipes that contribute to irreversible health effects, and vulnerable pipelines leading to water main breaks that lose up to 6 billion gallons of treated water daily. These conditions stem from declining public infrastructure investment, which has decreased as a share of GDP by more than 40% from its high in 1961.

The 118th Congress has an historic opportunity to develop and harness innovative technologies and methods to strengthen our economy, spur job growth, and bolster physical security with an eye toward equitable outcomes for all Americans. Our recommendations for policies that can help us achieve these outcomes are detailed below.

Reducing Transportation and Infrastructure GHGs. Commercial trucks and buses are one of the top contributors of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs). To help these vehicles transition to cleaner power sources, Congress should facilitate the build-out of a nationwide network of zero-emission fueling stations that would not only help reduce GHGs but also support America’s emerging alternative fuels and vehicles industry, and the job growth that would come with it.

Another significant contributor to GHGs is air travel, specifically small aircraft, the largest source of environmental lead pollution in the United States. Congress should help bolster a more sustainable aviation industry through funding, regulations, and taxes to spur the electrification of regional airports while putting the U.S. back on track to competing with European and Asian companies in the sustainable aviation technology market.

But reducing greenhouse gas emissions of different travel modes is not enough: we need to revolutionize the way we build, in light of the emissions intensity of materials such as steel and concrete. To support a “Steel Shot” at DOE, Congress should provide funding for a Clean Energy Manufacturing USA Institute focused on clean steel, as well as funding and authorities for federal investment in commercial-scale solutions.

Harnessing the Benefits of Smart-City Technologies While Mitigating Risks. Smart-city technologies – such as autonomous vehicles, smart grids, and internet-connected sensors – have the opportunity to deliver a better quality of life for communities by harnessing the power of data and digital infrastructure. However, they are not being used to their full potential. Congress should support more widespread adoption of smart-city technologies through funding for a new Smart Community Prize Competition, increased funding for community development programs such as HUD’s ConnectHome pilot program, planning grants, and resources for regional innovation ecosystems, amongst others.

But communities should not invest in or adopt smart-city technologies without consideration for individual protections and privacy. To that end, Congress should fund the development of technologies and processes that have civic protections embedded at their core. 

Putting AVs and CVs at the Forefront of Advancing Societal Benefits and Equity. The widespread adoption of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and Connected Vehicles (CVs) can revolutionize the way we travel and accelerate progress on a number of outcomes, including safety, GHG emissions, and travel times and costs. There are several ways Congress can play a role in spurring the AV and CV markets toward realizing these outcomes.

On AVs, Congress can create an Evaluation Innovation Engine at the Department of Transportation (USDOT) funded at $72 million annually to identify priority AV metrics and spur innovative technologies and strategies that would achieve them. Congress can also support AV-5G connections, critical for AV integration with the built environment, by funding a program to establish transportation infrastructure pilot zones; funding a National Connected AV Research Consortium; funding a research initiative at NSF focused on safety; and funding a new U.S. Corps of Engineers and Computer Scientists for Technology. 

On CVs, Congress can help stakeholders at the federal, state, and local level realize their benefits and work towards a common strategy by creating a National Task Force on Connected Vehicles.

Supporting Communities of Opportunity. In support of a national equitable transit-oriented development (TOD) program that addresses widespread demand for affordable housing and walkable communities, Congress should pass legislation that extends the use of Railroad Rehabilitation Improvement Financing (RRIF) funds for TOD initiatives; increases RRIF’s loan authorization to $50B, creates new funding and tax incentives to support TOD initiatives; and expands USDOT’s federal credit assistance programs, among other measures.

Appropriations Recommendations

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