Will Page benefit from the infrastructure bill?

Page's population in around 7,500, but millions of visitors pass through town on Highway 89 each year.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law last month, but it remains to be seen how, or even if, the Page area might benefit. 

According to figures from the White House, Arizona is slated to receive an estimated $7.31 billion in infrastructure bill allocations, ranking it 19th among all states.

Arizona’s total will be divided among highways ($5 billion), bridges ($225 million), public transportation ($884 million), water ($619 million) and “other” ($579 million). The other category includes allocations for electric vehicle charging stations, broadband internet, airports and funding to combat the impacts of climate change and cyberattacks. 

Adjusted for population, however, Arizona will get about $1,000 per person, ranking it 48th in the nation, with only North Carolina ($991) and Florida ($889) getting less.

While California and Texas top the list of overall funding, they are only a little above Arizona per capita at $1,100 and $1,200 per person, respectively. Alaska ranks first per capita at $6,700.

Funding from the bill will first be allocated to federal agencies that work in specific policy areas covered by the legislation. For example, funding for highways and public transit will go to the Department of Transportation, while money for drinking water and wastewater projects goes to the Environmental Protection Agency.

From there, most of the money will go to state governments, which will decide on the specific projects and communities that get funded. Communities are expected to start getting the infrastructure funding over the course of the next year. 

Questions about how Page can receive some of the funding from the bill arose during a meeting at Page Lake Powell Chamber of Commerce on Nov. 16, which was attended by Keith Brekhus, Congressman Tom O’Halleran’s district director for Arizona Congressional District 1.

At the meeting, Page City Manager Darren Coldwell brought up several projects for which the city has been seeking funding, including the construction of a roundabout at the intersection of South Lake Powell Boulevard and Highway 89.     

“There’s a roundabout project that we’ve been pursuing for a couple years, both on the state delegation and the national delegation. So, there’s money in there for infrastructure for roads and bridges and that kind of stuff. What is the process that we follow in order to get some of that money?” Coldwell asked.

He added that Page “really needs a second straw for water,” a project that the city has been working on with Arlando Teller, the deputy assistant secretary for tribal affairs in the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“But that’s like $65 million, and so I know that in the infrastructure bill there’s several different places for water improvements, and that’s a different process than the infrastructure. How do small-town folks like us even know where to begin?” Coldwell said.

Brekhus said he needed “to do a little more homework” on how the funding would be allocated.

“I think that will be part of our job is to work with the individual communities when the money comes out to first of all identify where it’s going and, if it’s a competitive process, to make sure you’re in on the ground floor,” he said.

“If the money ends up at ADOT [Arizona Department of Transportation], how does it get out to here? It’s not congressionally directed, (so) transportation money probably will end up at the state first, and then people will have to fight for it.”

Brekhus said that about half of the $1.2 trillion consists of funding that would have been spent even if the bill had not been signed into law, while the remaining $600 billion or so will be distributed over the next decade or so. 

“I think a lot of it isn’t dedicated, it’s not micro-managed. … I think there’s a lot of competitive money that once it comes out to the states, there will be fights over where it’s supposed to go,” he said. “If our office isn’t advocating or people aren’t pushing for it, I think we’re all left off, and rural American gets left behind on these kinds of things.”

He added that Page is at a disadvantage when “per capita formulas” are used to allocate government funding. 

“If you’re doing roads on a per capita formula, Page’s permanent population compared to the number of people that use it and pass through it, it’s out of balance,” he said. “We’ve tried to get them to push away from per capita formulas on a quite a few things because it doesn’t work for our district.”   

Coldwell agreed, saying that if the money for roads is given to ADOT, Page will likely come out on the short end. 

“Since the Valley’s growing so much, it all has been going to the Valley and the Prescott area and those high-growth areas. They don’t understand that we have 5 million visitors that go through Highway 89, but we only have 7,500 people permanently in the city of Page,” he said. 

Brekhus said that the bill also includes funding for Tribal infrastructure, and work must be done to “make sure that money is spent in a way that’s helpful.” Toward that end, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez was present at the bill’s signing ceremony on Nov. 15.

“It was truly an honor to be invited to the White House to represent the Navajo people for this monumental signing of the Infrastructure Bill, which will invest more than $11 billion in Indian Country for transportation, broadband, energy, water and sanitation facilities, and climate resiliency,” President Nez said. “This measure will also fully fund the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act to provide much-needed water resources for Navajo people.” 

Highlights of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s Tribal allocations include:

• Provides the Reclamation Water Settlement Fund with $2.5 billion to fully fund existing Indian Water Rights Settlements. 

• Authorizes over $3 billion for the Tribal Transportation Program over five years with an additional $925 million for the Tribal Transportation Facility Bridges program over five years as supplemental appropriations. 

• Authorizes $2 billion for the NTIA Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program and extends the deadlines for use of funds, removes the restriction that funds can only be used during the COVID-19 pandemic, and allows for new and subsequent funding rounds for additional appropriations. 

• Provides $3.5 billion over five years for improvements and construction of IHS sanitation facilities under Indian Health Service Sanitation Facilities Construction Program.

• Provides $11.2 billion for grants to States and Tribes for abandoned coal mine land and water reclamation projects. Tribes with programs approved under Section 405 of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 are eligible to receive grants. 

• Provides $55.426 billion for State and Tribal Assistance Grants for purposes of providing clean and safe drinking water to communities. 

• Provides $6 billion for the Battery Material Processing Grant and Battery Manufacturing and Recycling Grant programs that will distribute grants with extra consideration given to eligible entities that partner with Indian tribes.

“Infrastructure is the primary building block of our communities,” Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer said. “This investment will not only help rebuild roads and bridges our people need to access basic services, but it will lay the foundation for many communities who will see broadband or water delivery for the very first time.”

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