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Stop and go traffic impacts drivers on eastbound Interstate 10 atop the Mississippi River Bridge heading into Baton Rouge Wednesday afternoon, July 14, 2021, after multiple incidents caused lane closures and delays.

In an unusually bipartisan vote, the U.S. Senate approved a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package championed by Louisiana senior senator, Bill Cassidy, who says the state stands to receive $5.8 billion over the next five years for bridges and highways plus more for broadband and other projects.

“This legislation will create tens of thousands of new jobs,” said Cassidy, of Baton Rouge. “The new bridges and repaired highways will shorten commutes. Rural broadband will connect and give all Americans access to Telehealth, online education and other benefits. Flood mitigation, weatherization and coastal restoration will protect against flooding and lower utility bills. Improved water, sewer and drainage will revitalize communities.”

Cassidy’s fellow Republican, U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, of Madisonville, voted against the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, or IIJA. The bill cleared the U.S. Senate by a vote of 69-30

“I realized pretty quickly that if you look up ‘stupid stuff’ in the dictionary, there’s a picture of this bill,” Kennedy told Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle” on Monday night.

Former President Donald Trump, who as president pushed an even more expensive infrastructure bill, has relentlessly criticized this cornerstone of Democratic President Joe Biden’s agenda as a “massive socialist expansion.”

Using the term for "Republicans In Name Only," Trump emailed supporters last week: “Why are RINOs so desperate to push bad, Radical Leftist policies? And at the same time give a big win to the Democrats.”

Nineteen Republicans, however, supported the legislation, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky. All 30 "no" votes were cast by Republican senators.

The measure now heads for the U.S. House, where its future is unsure as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and members of the House Progressive Caucus want the Senate to first pass a $3.5 trillion bill that provides money for schools and social safety net programs.

Cassidy was an early member of a bipartisan team, which eventually numbered 22 of the 100 senators, that negotiated the terms of the arrangement over several months.

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The 2,704-page bill also includes money for strengthening the power grid and responding to global warming as well as pouring more money than ever before into repair, replacements and upgrades to highways, bridges, ports, airports and other public works that have been aging for decades.

About $66 billion will help passenger and freight rail, while a $7.5 billion chunk will be spent on a network of charging stations for electric vehicles, and another $15 billion to replace lead pipes in drinking water systems. Another $65 billion will go to expand broadband internet access.

The bipartisan act allocates $550 billion to the states for infrastructure improvements, and Louisiana is expected to receive $5.8 billion over the next five years.

Years of neglect because of underfunding led American Society of Civil Engineers give a D grade to Louisiana’s infrastructure, along with noting in the group’s 2021 report that the state has needed “immediate attention” for more than a decade. More than 3,400 miles of the state’s roadways are pocked and in poor condition; 1,600 bridges are structurally deficient and hundreds have been closed after being found too dangerous to cross. The systems that provide drinking water for many Louisiana residents are so old that 1,700 notices are issued per year for residents to boil the water in order to safely drink.

“Of special interest is the investment in ports, which will be of great benefit to our urban and rural ports across the state. In addition, this bill will greatly help to eliminate the digital divide in our state by 2029,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement. “It will provide $100 million that will help solve a portion of our broadband access challenges across the state. This has been a long time in coming and took a lot of hard work to pass. I am grateful to Sen. Bill Cassidy.”

“Infrastructure knows no politics and the IIJA will benefit everybody and all modes of transportation in our state,” said Shawn Wilson, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development, who will have a large say on which projects will receive the federal funds. “Our investment of the nearly $6 billion over the next five years will make a sizable impact on the roads and bridges that have been in need of upgrades for years.”

Each state gets a certain amount dictated by a funding formula. The money goes to the state for the governor, state Department of Transportation & Development and the Legislature to decide how to spend. The state will work with metropolitan planning organizations around the state to identify transportation needs and priorities.

Other benefits for Louisiana include:

  • Authorizes I-14 corridor through from Texas through central Louisiana, including stops in Leesville and Alexandria, to Augusta, Ga.
  • $500 Million for the STORM Act to establish a revolving fund for mitigation assistance to local governments to reduce risks from disasters and natural hazards.
  • $3.5 Billion to reduce or eliminate the risk of repetitive flood damage to buildings insured by the National Flood Insurance Program, which last year saw a third of its applications come from Louisiana.
  • $2.55 billion for construction of Coastal Storm Risk Management and Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction projects specifically targeting states such as Louisiana that have been impacted by federally declared disasters over the last six years, including $109 million for Louisiana Corps Federal projects to dredge and repair damages caused by hurricanes Laura, Delta, and Zeta, $808 million for Mississippi Rivers and tributaries, and $251 million for Flood and Coastal Emergencies, which directly benefit Louisiana.
  • $53 Million for Lake Pontchartrain over five years to support local restoration efforts.
  • $150 Million for the Delta Regional Authority.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.