A bipartisan infrastructure bill that could bring up to $2 billion to Maine is expected to pass the Senate early Tuesday following months of negotiations that often seemed close to falling apart.
The $1 trillion legislation includes funding for roads and bridges as well as public transit, support for electric vehicles and funding for broadband. Those investments are paid for in part by reallocating money from COVID-19 relief funds and drawing from a range of other small revenue streams, though it eschews any tax increases or new user fees.
The bill will then head to the Democratic-controlled House, where it is expected to pass despite some dissatisfaction from both Republicans and progressive Democrats, although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has indicated lawmakers may wait to vote on the legislation until the Senate also passes a budget bill.
Here is a look at what Maine could get if the bill makes it through.
‘Historic’ funding for broadband
The infrastructure bill includes $65 billion to expand broadband access nationwide. Maine will receive $100 million to start, with more expected next year after the Federal Communications Commission finalizes new broadband maps to determine which communities are underserved. That comes on top of the nearly $150 million that Maine is putting toward broadband from a Democratic-led stimulus package that passed earlier this year.
Broadband has been a priority for lawmakers of both parties in the past few years. More than 80,000 households remain underserved in Maine and the state also has some of the slowest internet speeds in the U.S., with only eight states performing worse, according to Broadband Now. But funding, though broadly popular, has been limited until recently.
Peggy Schaffer, the executive director of ConnectME, the state broadband expansion agency, characterized the bipartisan infrastructure bill as a “historic” investment, saying there was a “significant possibility” that Maine could mostly close its digital divide within five years.
“This really is an opportunity for people across the country and in Maine to change our mindset from scarcity to abundance,” she said.
Schaffer, who credited Maine’s U.S. senators — Republican Susan Collins, a leading negotiator of the package, and independent Angus King — for their work on the broadband portions of the bill, also praised its affordability measures. In addition to funding for infrastructure, the bill extends pandemic-era internet subsidies for low-income families, which could benefit about 310,000 Mainers, according to White House estimates.
More than $1.5 billion for roads and bridges
The bill could help Maine begin to catch up on construction projects, with the state set to receive at least $1.3 billion in highway funding and $225 million for bridge repairs and replacement over five years. More than half of Maine’s bridges are at least 50 years old, while 13 percent are considered structurally deficient, according to the National Transportation Research Group, a nonprofit think tank.
High construction costs and lack of funding have forced the Maine Department of Transportation to postpone repairs in the past few years, leading to a significant maintenance backlog. Not all the highway funding in the bill is new, but it will initially account for an increase of at least $50 million per year compared to the base funding Maine received over the past five years. Additional funding for roads and bridges will be available through grant programs.
Millions for public transit
Public transportation was one of the most controversial parts of the bill, but the legislation ultimately included $39 billion in funding to upgrade transit systems. The money is supposed to go to improving accessibility for people with disabilities and replacing buses with zero emission vehicles, as well as expanding service in some areas. Maine transit agencies are expected to receive at least $241 million over five years, according to White House estimates.
The bill also includes $66 billion in funding for Amtrak, but a proposed extension of the Downeaster to Rockland might have to wait. More than a third of funding for the rail operator is for improvements to the northeast corridor from Washington, D.C., to Boston, while only $12 billion is set aside for new intercity rail. That will not be enough to fund all of Amtrak’s proposed extensions, and Rockland may be less of a priority than larger cities in the South or Midwest.
Additional electric vehicle charging stations
The bill includes $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations, of which Maine is set to receive $19 million, with additional opportunities to apply for grant money. Building more charging stations is one step toward encouraging electric vehicle uptake in Maine.
The state still has a long way to go, however. Gov. Janet Mills’ climate action plan, released last November, calls for increasing the share of new electric vehicles sold to 28 percent of all cars by 2025. They only accounted for about 1.7 percent of sales in 2020, according to the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.