Infrastructure bill is ‘once in a lifetime investment,’ Murkowski says

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski says the trillion-dollar infrastructure bill she helped negotiate is good for Americans, and good for Alaska in particular. 

“It is pretty historic,” she told reporters on Thursday. “We haven’t seen this level of support and focus on infrastructure for our nation in decades.”

The White House and a bipartisan group of senators is touting the bill’s benefits. The legislation is smaller than President Biden wanted, but much larger than a lot of Republicans want to see. 

Murkowski said she worked to make sure the bill addresses Alaska’s needs, for instance, by including money for ferries.

“Not only on the construction side, but with regards to operation and repair within the Alaska Marine Highway System,” she said. “I think we know that this has been part of the challenge that we have faced year over year with the marine highway.”

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The bill includes $2.5 billion for ferries nationwide, with $250 million for a pilot program to create electric or low-carbon ferries.

It’s impossible to say how much of the trillion dollars in spending will go to Alaska. A lot will be awarded in grants. But Murkowski said some would be allocated by formula, such as $4.3 billion over five years for Alaska’s highways.

By formula, the state would also get $180 million for water and wastewater projects. And, Murkowski said, the bill would send more water and sewer money to Alaska’s tribes.

“We’ve directed $3.5 billion for Indian Health Service for sanitation facilities,” she said. “This is going to really be a once in a lifetime investment in sanitation infrastructure.”

Murkowski also highlighted significant spending to extend broadband and build remote harbors for subsistence users.

“I think we recognize that in Alaska, so many of our ports are small, but it’s economic lifeblood for so many of these communities,” she said.

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This bill is for so-called “hard infrastructure.” President Biden is also pushing for a $3.5 trillion “soft infrastructure” bill including childcare subsidies, paid leave and workforce training. That legislation is expected to pass without any Republican support: Murkowski described it as an expensive grab bag of Democratic priorities.

The Senate will be working on the “hard” infrastructure bill before lawmakers leave for the August recess.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan was among 32 Republicans who voted not to take up the legislation. A spokesman said he was waiting to read the bill language.

RELATED: Biden orders tough new vaccination rules for federal workers

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.

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