Biden bets big that voters will reward him in 2024 for new bridge and road projects
WASHINGTON — Signs are popping up across the country carrying the message that President Joe Biden deserves big credit for new bridges and roads built with billions of federal dollars.
“Bipartisan Infrastructure Act funded project,” reads a project to ease traffic on the Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River between Covington, Kentucky and Cincinnati. “President Joe Biden,” the message continues. “Building a better America.”
Federal taxpayers’ money is improving the bridge and paying for the signs, but Biden hopes there will be a bonanza at the polls in 2024.
If he runs again, he will make the case that lives are noticeably improving thanks to the legislation that most people may not even be aware that he helped pass. Maybe their commute to work takes less time, or expanded broadband has eliminated cyber dead zones in their neighborhood. Biden aims to remind them that he pushed through a $1 trillion infrastructure spending bill and effectively “implemented” it, making it all possible, his advisers said.
It can be a tough sell. Through bitter experience, lawmakers in both parties have learned that rebuilding tunnels, railroads and highways takes time – so long that any hope of a quick political dividend is fading. Seeking to revive an economy reeling from financial collapse, then-President Barack Obama poured nearly $50 billion into new transportation projects after taking office in 2009, only to note with regret a year later that projects announced as “ready to go” were nothing of the sort.
What’s different this time around, according to Biden allies, is that projects move more quickly from concept to completion, which could make a difference in the 2024 presidential election.
About 20,000 projects received funding under the bill Biden signed into law in 2021. Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans who coordinates the infrastructure program for the Biden administration, said that the benefits will be visible to people when the next election turns around.
“There are projects springing up as we speak,” he said. “Almost every physical project you see coming out of the ground right now has a federal dollar. This is going to be extremely important. Some of these things will take a little longer, but most people will know that.
The stimulus projects that Obama launched were somewhat of a trial run for the larger agenda that Biden envisioned. “We are rebuilding the whole country,” Landrieu said.
As much as anyone, Biden knows the pitfalls and successes of what the Obama administration undertook: Obama brought in then-Vice President Biden to oversee the program, dubbing him “Sheriff Joe.”
A lesson learned from the Obama years is how to identify and position projects so they are truly “shovel-ready” when the financial tap turns on, officials said.
In Colorado, authorities are expanding a stretch of I-70 in hopes of easing a notorious bottleneck as motorists travel to iconic ski lodges including Vail and Breckenridge. A federal grant of $100 million helps fund the project.
“We call it the number one place to get stuck in mountain traffic,” said Shoshana Lew, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation and a former Obama administration official.
“We received the largest federal grant our department has ever received as a result of” the Infrastructure Spending Act, she said. “It’s already under construction and it’s moving very quickly.”
Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., who leads the House Democrats’ messaging and policy operation, argued that these infrastructure projects “move the needle” for voters as they travel to ballot boxes.
Several months ago, Neguse was at the groundbreaking of the I-70 project. “It will transform the mountainous and rural communities adjacent to the freeway, a huge deal for my constituents, a huge deal for the people of Colorado,” he said. “And you can browse the list in terms of broadband projects, water infrastructure projects, etc., that are having a real impact every day.”
Others suggest Biden’s timeline may be too ambitious, given the complexity of federal spending.
Jim Gilmore, the Republican Governor of Virginia from 1998 to 2002, helped initiate construction of a new Woodrow Wilson Bridge connecting his state to Maryland. At the time the inauguration took place in 2006, a Democratic governor was in office and Gilmore was not invited to the ceremony.
Was the bridge renamed “Jim Gilmore-Woodrow Wilson Bridge?” asked Gilmore, rhetorically. It was not.
“I found the federal money very frustrating,” Gilmore said. “There were always so many strings attached that it was very difficult to use the money effectively and quickly enough to get things done.”
Another hurdle Biden faces is an age-old problem facing candidates. Voters are often sensitive to the present and the future, not what a politician has done in the past. Amid high inflation and fears of a coming recession, many Americans may be more focused on paying their bills than celebrating new charging stations for electric cars they can’t afford. allow.
John McLaughlin, a pollster for former President Donald Trump, said “the negative impact of rising prices for gas, food, energy, housing and other essentials is being felt now and seriously harms Biden and the Democrats.”
Once Biden is officially a candidate, he can leverage campaign funds to drive home the message that his infrastructure package does indeed make life better.
“You can bet he will communicate on it and people will see that,” said a Biden insider, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Until then, the president and his supporters will have to improvise.
Speaking to House Democrats this week at a retreat in Baltimore, Biden held up a red, white and blue sign for the city’s Frederick Douglass Tunnel, whose future upgrades will allow trains to travel more than 100 miles per hour, compared to 30 previously. Joe Biden; Frederick Douglass tunnel; bipartisan infrastructure law,” the sign reads.
“If we do nothing, nothing but implement what we’ve already passed and let people know who did it for them, we win,” Biden said.
Democrats want similar signs touting projects underway in their districts across the country.
“I can just wear it like a sandwich panel,” Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., said of the panel. “I can just walk around with it.”
Peter Nicholas reported from Washington and Scott Wong from Baltimore.