U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, told attendees at the Gorst Coalition kickoff in August that getting funding to fix the Gorst traffic mess will require officials and their constituents to continue making the case at each level of government. The infrastructure bill passed by the House last week could provide some funding for the project, Kilmer says. (Bob Smith | Kitsap Daily News)

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, told attendees at the Gorst Coalition kickoff in August that getting funding to fix the Gorst traffic mess will require officials and their constituents to continue making the case at each level of government. The infrastructure bill passed by the House last week could provide some funding for the project, Kilmer says. (Bob Smith | Kitsap Daily News)

Kitsap to reap benefits from infrastructure bill, Kilmer says

Gorst Corridor fix may be in line for funding

  • Tuesday, November 9, 2021 4:02pm
  • News

By Mike De Felice

Special to the Independent

PORT ORCHARD – Following the passage of President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill last week, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer of the 6th Congressional District called it one of the most significant bills to cross the finish line during his time in Congress.

“I cannot tell you how many areas of the district I represent are going to benefit from funding for roads and bridges and internet,” Kilmer told the Kitsap News Group on Monday. “Having the federal government step up and help out — and not have all of those projects fall on the backs of taxpayers in Kitsap County — is just a really big deal.”

Washington state will get an estimated $8.6 billion in dedicated funds for road and bridge projects that also will expand high-speed internet, boost public transit and increase electric-vehicle charging stations once the law is signed into law by the president.

The state will be able to compete for billions more in competitive grants to make infrastructure improvements, Kilmer said.

“This is a big win for our region,” the congressman said. “The act provides funding to solve problems folks in Kitsap County and around our district have really been focused on. People are tired of sitting in traffic, and this bill makes such a substantial investment in roads and bridges and public transit.

“Folks throughout my district are concerned because many of them don’t have internet access that they need to have for that telehealth appointment or to take an online class. And this bill provides a historic level of funding to bridge the digital divide.”

Titled the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), this major piece of legislation does not spell out which projects in Kitsap County will be funded. Those decisions will be determined based on priorities by local government officials at a later time.

Still, Kilmer is confident the spending bill will help fix the highway congestion problem at Gorst, which is an issue local lawmakers have determined to be a top transportation priority. Salmon recovery efforts through culvert upgrades will likely benefit from the bill, he added.

Under the package, the state over the next five years is expected to receive $4.7 billion for highways, $605 million for bridges and $1.8 billion for public transportation, $71 million to build electric vehicle charging stations, $882 million for drinking water safety, $100 million for high-speed internet service, $39 million to protect against wildfires and $385 million to upgrade airports, according to federal estimates supplied by the White House.

The size of the IIJA will lead to record-setting funding for local projects, Kilmer said.

“This is the largest-ever investment in public transit and the single largest funding for bridge construction and replacement since the creation of the Interstate Highway System. This is also the largest investment in clean drinking and wastewater infrastructure in American history,” the congressman said.

“This bill is going to create jobs. It’s going to put people to work now and lay the foundation for economic growth over the long haul by investing in roads, bridges, transit, water systems, ports and broadband. I think this bill is about recognizing that we can’t compete in a 21st-century economy with 19th- and 20th-century infrastructures,” Kilmer said.

“It makes important investments geared towards tackling the climate crisis as well,” the lawmaker added.

Kilmer believes it will not take long for constituents to see the impacts of the expansive legislation.

“I think these dollars are going to start flowing pretty quickly. Just like you saw that in the pandemic relief legislation,” he said.

Kilmer said the passage of the infrastructure bill represented a bipartisan victory for the American people. The package passed the Senate with a bipartisan vote of 69-30 in August and passed the House last Friday by a vote of 228-206 in favor of passage. Thirteen Republican representatives supported it, while six Democrats voted against it.

Rough road toward passage

The road to passing the infrastructure bill was not a smooth one. For weeks, bickering between the progressive caucus headed by Pramila Jayapal, U.S. congresswoman from Seattle, and moderate Democrats over Biden’s two trillion-dollar bills was on display. Some politicians tried to characterize the party discord as part of the “sausage-making process” involved in negotiating major legislation.

Asked if infighting leading to the passage of the infrastructure bill may have hurt Democrats in the eyes of voters, given that the mid-term elections are just a year away, Kilmer replied:

“Maybe that’s a better question for political scientists than for me. What I can tell you is that when we start to see road construction projects and people getting internet who didn’t have it — and investment happening in their area — I’m not sure the debate that happened in October and early November is really going to be on their minds.”

The next step

Congress now faces the second prong of Biden’s agenda — the $1.7 trillion social safety net and climate-change bill, otherwise called the Build Back Better Act.

Kilmer supports the bill though he admits it may change form before Congress is expected to take it up sometime before the Thanksgiving break.

“A bill that reduces health care costs, the cost of prescription drugs and provides more financial aid for folks who go to college, will help my constituents,” he said.

The Build Back Better Act legislation faces significant challenges, however. No Republican has voiced support for the measure and some Democrats remain wary of the bill’s price tag and priorities.

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