My Turn, Bill Graham: North Carolina’s future relies on smart infrastructure

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 17, 2021

By Bill Graham

North Carolina is fortunate to be experiencing rapid growth—in our communities, in our economy, and in the number of jobs we are creating. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, we are the 11th fastest-growing state in the country, with our population having increased by 11.2% between 2010 and 2020.

This is a good indicator that North Carolina is blessed with a thriving economy and vibrant local communities that attract new residents and businesses alike. However, all this growth also increases the urgency of addressing our state’s major infrastructure needs, from upgrading our roads, highways, and bridges to modernizing our energy and electrical infrastructure.

Given the urgency of these issues, it is refreshing to see conservatives in Congress leading the charge to pass innovative infrastructure plans that will contribute positively to the country’s economic future. This includes their work to foster clean energy’s potential to improve air quality and eliminate pollution while creating jobs nationwide.  

This approach marries economic opportunities with solutions that address pressing problems in our communities. Senate Republicans, including Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, should be commended for their efforts to develop smart, forward-thinking infrastructure policies that build for the future of North Carolina and the country.

In fact, from Raleigh to Washington, D.C., Republican leaders are taking the bull by the horns in these policy discussions, putting forward bold, innovative ideas to improve our nation’s aging infrastructure and expand clean energy in order to create local jobs and strengthen our communities. That includes the critical work that has gone into developing the recently introduced Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021, a bill crafted by a bipartisan group of legislators that would lay the groundwork for continued infrastructure investments.

The surface transportation reauthorization bill exemplifies Republicans’ commitment to clean energy and carbon reduction investments as a critical component of our larger, national infrastructure needs. It also demonstrates the kind of bipartisan collaboration that will be necessary to enact a comprehensive infrastructure package. The bill unanimously passed its committee on a bipartisan 20 to 0 vote after bill sponsors incorporated dozens of provisions put forward by members of both parties.

In addition to authorizing $350 billion over five years to upgrade our nation’s highways, roads, and bridges, this measure dedicates $18 billion to climate programs, including $6.4 billion to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and $8.7 billion to increase our nation’s resilience to the impacts of our changing climate and more extreme weather events. It also dedicates $7.2 billion for alternative transportation projects and $2.5 billion to develop alternative fuel corridors and expand our electric vehicle charging infrastructure nationwide.

These investments send a clear and powerful message: Republicans are serious about advancing clean energy and carbon reduction while also reforming and streamlining lengthy review and permitting processes to help get shovel-ready projects underway as soon as possible. This bill represents an important step in the ongoing process of advancing our broader national infrastructure discussion. Hopefully, it also provides a model for federal legislators to find a greater bipartisan compromise that answers the country’s long call-to-action on infrastructure.

The Republican infrastructure plan recently put forward as a counter proposal to the Biden administration’s plan reflects serious effort to find that common ground between the parties while also recognizing the critical role of clean energy and climate resiliency in our national infrastructure. It includes hundreds of billions of dollars in increased spending to improve our roads, bridges, and airports as well as our water, broadband, and passenger and freight rail infrastructure. 

Supporting investments in infrastructure and clean energy just makes plain, good economic sense for North Carolina. It will allow us to continue creating well-paying, modern jobs for hard working North Carolinians, spur innovation and competition in the private sector, and support the continued growth we are experiencing as a state. 

As these conversations unfold in Washington, Senators Burr and Tillis should continue to push for responsible, bipartisan infrastructure investments that will most effectively meet the needs of and provide lasting benefits for the people of North Carolina and the rest of this great nation.

Bill Graham is an attorney, businessman and former Republican candidate for North Carolina governor.