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How Funding From The Infrastructure Bill Might Impact U.S. Cities

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

Now that the Senate has passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the larger budget framework, the House will have to vote on both in coming weeks. President Biden says the infrastructure spending will result in historic change.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We're on the cusp of an infrastructure decade that I truly believe will transform America.

ELLIOTT: So what will that look like across the country? Here to talk about the local impact is Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt. Good morning, Mayor Holt.

DAVID HOLT: Hi. Good morning.

ELLIOTT: So according to the White House, Oklahoma would stand to receive about $5 billion from this infrastructure deal. What are you looking to do with any funds that might come to Oklahoma City?

HOLT: Well, I think for us - I look at the bipartisan infrastructure plan, and I'm most intrigued probably by some of the investments in transit. You know, we're a very large city by land mass. We're 620 square miles, so we don't have great public transit. That's always been a struggle for us. We're really built around the automobile. But as we get a little more dense, we find our traffic rising, and we find a rising level - a rising generations of our residents want to see more public transit. And so I think that, for us, would be investments in more bus rapid transit, potentially investments in a nascent regional transit authority that we've created over the last couple years that could provide light rail, light commuter rail to our region. So that's one thing.

Another thing that's intriguing to us here in Oklahoma City is the passenger rail part of this infrastructure plan. So this is probably one of the country's biggest investments in passenger rail ever. And of course, it's maybe not a surprise knowing the president's passion for Amtrak. And so...

ELLIOTT: True.

HOLT: ...This would allow us to have a northern route to Kansas, which - so it's kind of intriguing. On - in 1889, our city was founded in a land run, of all things, and many people journeyed to Oklahoma City to participate in that by taking passenger rail down from Kansas. Well, we haven't had that service in decades. We had better passenger rail in 1889 than we do today. So...

ELLIOTT: Wow.

HOLT: ...We would love to be able to have a northern connection that would open us up to the northern half of the United States 'cause right now you can - the only passenger rail is to go south to Fort Worth. So those are a couple things.

Obviously, we love the investments in roads and bridges, as well - same problem with a city our size keeping up with that infrastructure. Obviously, we love the broadband and many other aspects of this package. But transit and passenger rail - two of the things that I think are most game-changing for us.

ELLIOTT: Now, you're a Republican and among more than 350 mayors from both parties who signed on a letter and called on Congress to get some action here. Let's get an infrastructure bill. Were local leaders getting a bit frustrated that this was so long in coming?

HOLT: Well, sure. And I think everybody in the country kind of is. You know, this is - this has been a bipartisan failure to pass major infrastructure investment over the last decade. You know, this is - this has gone across multiple administrations. Mayors and governors from across the United States of both parties have called on Congress and the White House to do this, going back a very long time. And we got together - and I want to credit President Nan Whaley, the current U.S. Conference of Mayors president, the mayor of Dayton, for pulling that letter together that has almost 400, actually, bipartisan mayors from across the country. We did that because we felt like this was maybe the moment, you know? Like, let's do everything we can to try and nudge this across the line 'cause we felt this was as close as the conversation has gotten to reality in a very long time. And so far, so good. We did that letter a few weeks ago, obviously before the Senate passage yesterday. And we hope that we're part of the solution, and we're excited about yesterday's developments.

ELLIOTT: Now, still, many of your fellow Republicans are critical of this price tag - right? - $1.2 trillion and some of the specifics of the bill, new spending and it's going to add to the federal deficit. Oklahoma's two U.S. senators voted no. Do you think this huge price tag is worth it?

HOLT: Well, for core infrastructure, yes. I think it is. I mean, this is the duty of government, you know? These types of things that you and I were just talking about - roads and bridges, transit, passenger rail, broadband, water infrastructure - I mean, these are the things that government unquestionably does. And it's fine. Not everybody has to vote yes. I'm OK with that. I'm at peace with that as long as it keeps moving forward. And I would point out, however, that nearly half the Republican caucus in the U.S. Senate did vote yes. It was a truly bipartisan passage, not token bipartisanship. It truly was bipartisan, and that was good for the country.

ELLIOTT: Mayor of Oklahoma City David Holt, thank you so much for speaking with us this morning.

HOLT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.