West Virginia is home to rolling hills, roaring rivers, and vast forests that make our state Almost Heaven. Those same treasures make for rough terrain and communities that lack access to broadband and upgraded infrastructure. Across the Mountain State, 1,545 bridges and more than 3,200 miles of highway are in poor condition. Thirty-two percent of trains and transit vehicles are beyond their useful lives. More than 258,000 West Virginians have no broadband access.
West Virginia’s infrastructure woes are not unique. (Last) week, the U.S. Senate acted to address these needs by passing the most significant investment in our nation’s infrastructure needs in a generation. And impressively, we did so through largely regular Senate order — something not seen in the Senate in quite some time. Major portions of this bipartisan bill were reported out of Senate committees after robust markups where every Member was able to offer amendments — including the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which I chair. On the Senate floor, the bill passed with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 69-30 and remarkably earned the support of both Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Reaching this consensus was not easy but it is proof that bipartisanship in Washington is not dead.
America hasn’t seen this type of infrastructure investment in three decades. With at least $5.6 billion of investments in West Virginia, the impacts of this bipartisan bill will be felt by every household in our state. It will also create good-paying, long-term jobs over the course of the next 8 to 10 years, boosting the economy in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. This legislation delivers for West Virginians.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill will deliver $3 billion for federal-aid highway programs to repair our roads so our children are safer on the school bus in the morning. It includes another $506 million to replace and repair our failing bridges, nearly $200 million for Corridor H and $43 million for our vital airports across the state. The bill also includes a provision requiring the Federal Railroad Administration to evaluate restoring daily service on the Amtrak Cardinal, which connects much of southern West Virginia to the rest of the country.
The pandemic has been a stark reminder of how critical good internet access is to succeeding in a 21st century economy. The bill will deliver around $600 million to expand broadband access across the Mountain State and 543,000 West Virginians will be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which will help low-income families afford internet access, ensuring more West Virginia households are connected than ever before. And West Virginia will be eligible to compete for more than $48 billion to finish and connect broadband deployment routes and around $17 billion to make broadband more affordable and accessible for all West Virginians.
The bipartisan bill will invest $312 million into our public transportation systems to make our public trains and buses easier to access, safer to use and more efficient. It will be easier than ever to get to work, the grocery store and to visit loved ones using public transportation.
Nobody should have to worry about access to clean water when they’re cooking for their families or bathing their children. The bipartisan bill includes $289 million to ensure our cities, counties and municipalities are able to upgrade aging sewer systems to ensure clean water and wastewater systems in every corner of West Virginia.
As the only state fully within the Appalachian region, our state will see significant benefits from the additional $1 billion for the Appalachian Regional Commission over the next five years to support communities throughout Appalachia.
One in three West Virginians live within one mile of an abandoned mine land site. These sites are unusable at best and dangerous at worst. Our bipartisan legislation reauthorizes the abandoned mine land reclamation fee for another 13 years and invests $11.3 billion in reclaiming abandoned coal mine land to address these problem areas — 140,355 acres of which are in West Virginia — and $4.7 billion to plug orphan wells so we are able to turn these sites into valuable assets for our communities.
West Virginia is not immune from severe weather events like derechos and polar vortexes. Over the last several years, we’ve seen these events cut off power for many West Virginians. The bipartisan bill ensures West Virginia utility companies are eligible for $5 billion to upgrade our electric grid to ensure a more resilient grid and fewer power outages.
It also supports the efforts here in the Mountain State to lead on advanced energy technologies and encourages energy manufacturers to locate in coal country. It supports the ongoing work of West Virginia University in shoring up a domestic rare earth elements supply chain, and will improve energy efficiency and weatherization of our homes, businesses and schools.
I have always said the best politics is good government and this bipartisan bill is good government. Our bipartisan group of senators worked tirelessly for months to hammer out a compromise that addresses our infrastructure needs without raising taxes on working Americans. We’ve had a few road blocks and potholes, but we overcame it all, together. Not one Senator got everything they wanted, but we all got what we needed. That’s how compromise works. We can come together to accomplish big things when we reach across the aisle and forge true relationships. This determined group of Senators showed the American people — and the entire world — that the Senate is not broken.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is the state’s senior senator, having previously served as governor and secretary of state.