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How Could the $1 Trillion Federal
Infrastructure Act Help Tri-Cities?

by Annette Cary
Tri-City Herald, November 15, 2021

The bill includes $5 billion for grants to help improve the efficiency of short-line railroads,
such as those in Eastern Washington that carry agriculture products to other transportation systems.

The Washington State Grain Train recently acquired 29 more grain cars to help farmers get grain to export terminals "The bill also creates a number of exciting new opportunities for us in clean hydrogen, battery supply chain, water infrastructure, workforce development and more," he said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said the bill has provisions to help move farm products to market, which could benefit the agriculture and food processing economies of the Tri-Cities area.

She took the lead on several projects in the bill as chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

"Getting product to market is very important" to the agriculture community surrounding the Tri-Cities," she said. "So a key aspect of the investment in the transportation bill are those things that help our ports, our at-grade crossings and moving freight to better get to those markets in a timely fashion."

Some $3 billion has been set aside to convert railroad lines that cross busy intersections to put the tracks in underpasses or overpasses.

The 50 most congested crossings in Washington are blocked for an average of two hours per day, with an average of 49 trains and 12,000 rail cars, according to Cantwell's staff. Kennewick has at least three at-grade railroad crossings that could use improvement, Cantwell said, calling out crossings on North Fruitland Street, Edison Street and Kellogg Street.

"Too many people are injured or killed at at-grade crossings, and the safest crossing is one that does not exist," Cantwell said earlier this year. "Crossings can also delay the movement of people and goods all across the United States, hurting our competitiveness."


The bill also includes $5 billion for grants to help improve the efficiency of short-line railroads, such as those in Eastern Washington that help carry agriculture products to other transportation systems to move them to markets overseas.

Passenger rail service also could be improved or expanded.

The bill includes $12 billion to expand the passenger rail network through multi-year planning and construction grants.

Among projects across the nation that could benefit is a proposal for a possible new passenger rail route from Spokane to the Tri-Cities and then northwest across the state through Yakima and Ellensburg to Seattle.

The bill also includes $57 billion for transit agencies, including a boost of $1.8 billion for service in Washington state.

Other money in the bill could be used for agencies like Ben Franklin Transit to do maintenance or replace old buses with less polluting buses.


The $16.7 million for the Tri-Cities Airport is set aside as part of $385 million in airport infrastructure grants to Washington airports.

"It's great news for the airport and the community, what we can do with this money," said Buck Taft, airport director.

He was still waiting last week to hear the allowed uses for the money, which he expects might be distributed to the airport over five years.

But the airport has plans for several projects that the money might be able to help with.

That includes an expansion of the airport terminal that has been considered for 2032 but perhaps now could be done sooner, he said.

Now all the ticket counters at the front of the airport are in use.

In addition to the money coming directly to the airport, $5 billion is included in the bill for airports nationwide to compete for grants for terminal development.

Airport officials also are interested in completing a taxiway that would open up the business park for more hangars.

Private aircraft also could benefit from proposed ramp and infrastructure upgrades.

In addition, the Tri-Cities Airport needs a new maintenance facility for equipment used to clean the runway.

The equipment is so large that it is difficult to get the equipment at the back of the current building out when it is needed.

Airport officials had hoped to build the new facility in about five years.


Cantwell also has championed money for electric grid improvements, after Spokane had rolling blackouts during last summer's heatwave and Tri-Cities residents were warned to prepare for them as extreme heat put stress on transmission systems at the end of June.

The bill has $5 billion to establish a new Department of Energy grant program for work that reduces the likelihood of grid problems due to weather, wildfire and natural disasters.

Cantwell also included a $10 billion increase in borrowing authority for the Bonneville Power Administration to help finance the construction, acquisition and replacement of parts of the Columbia River Power System.

Cantwell also pushed to include research money in the bill, including for developing advanced cybersecurity applications and technologies for the energy sector, areas in which Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland excels.

Other spending in the bill would go to drinking water, stormwater and wastewater system improvements.

The bill includes $8.3 billion to address historic droughts across the United States and restore aging water and irrigation infrastructure.

Most of Benton and Franklin counties remain in "exceptional drought" according to the U.S. Drought Monitor's latest data.

Workers on a section of the Lind Coulee Siphon that will deliver water to Odessa Subarea farmers. The legislation would also boost groundwater storage and conveyance projects, including those like the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan and Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program.

Cantwell authored an amendment that would create a new federal program to provide federal financial and technical assistance for groundwater recharge, aquifer storage and recovery, and water source substitution for aquifer protection projects.


The Department of Energy said the bill includes $21.5 billion for clean energy demonstrations and research hubs focused on new technologies.

That includes $8 billion for clean hydrogen to turbo-charge the nation's progress toward heavy trucking and industrial sectors that run without producing carbon pollution, according to DOE.

It also includes $2.5 billion for advanced nuclear, which would produce clean electricity around the clock rather than depending on sun and wind, and create good-paying jobs, DOE said.

Energy Northwest has formed a partnership with Grant PUD and X-energy, of Rockville, Md., to build a commercial advanced nuclear power reactor on land leased by Energy Northwest near Richland.

The partnership proposes operating an 80-megawatt reactor within seven years. The project could be scaled up to four-reactor, 320-megawatt power plant.


TRIDEC noted the bill includes significant investments in salmon recovery through the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund and the Culvert Removal and Replacement Fund.

"These investments will result in tangible benefits to critical salmon recovery efforts in the near term, and we believe they are a far better use of taxpayer dollars than any further exploration of removing the lower Snake River dams," Reeploeg said.

The bill includes $7 billion for salmon habitat restoration, which could be used for Washington coastline and rivers.

Washington state has a backlog of more than $4 billion of such projects, such as replacing western Washington culverts under roadways that block salmon.

Additional money could be used to better understand how changing conditions in the Pacific Ocean are harming endangered salmon and to rebuild salmon hatcheries.

"By investing in programs ranging from habitat restoration to new hatchery production dollars to cutting-edge fisheries science, this package will help bring back iconic salmon to our region's beloved waters," Cantwell said.

Annette Cary
How Could the $1 Trillion Federal Infrastructure Act Help Tri-Cities?
Tri-City Herald, November 15, 2021

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