Hawaii’s $2.8 billion share of the trillion-dollar bipartisan infrastructure package signed into law Monday should start to flow into the state within “months, not years,” according to U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz.

Furthermore, the nation’s lone island state could boost that share by an additional $1 billion in competitive grant funding, depending on how aggressively Hawaii’s state and county government agencies pursue the dollars available in the package, Schatz said.

The $2.8 billion is slated to help fix the islands’ aging highways, bridges, airports and other critical infrastructure.

“That’s the floor. That’s the amount that we’ll get if we don’t lift a finger,” Schatz said Monday. “But we should be determined to do better than that and compete for the maximum amount of federal funds.”

Hawaiian Airlines aircraft arrives to the gate at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.
The new trillion-dollar infrastructure package includes at least $2.8 billion for Hawaii, including upgrades to the state’s airports. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The federal dollars will help relocate stretches of Hawaii coastal highway that are vulnerable to sea level rise, including Honoapiilani Highway on Maui and Kamehameha Highway on Oahu near Laniakea Beach.

They’ll also help expand broadband internet access statewide and go toward county water and sewer improvements, plus new electric vehicle infrastructure.

“By strengthening our nation’s infrastructure, we’ll improve our supply chain crisis, ease inflation, and create thousands of good-paying jobs across the state,” U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono added in a statement Monday touting the new law.

The package also includes more than $637 million to help repair and expand bus transit across the state.

Notably, it excludes any funding for Oahu’s tumultuous, multibillion-dollar rail transit project, which faces a renewed budget shortfall of some $3.6 billion dollars.

Schatz said Monday that’s because the infrastructure deal aims to fix and improve existing transit systems, not build new ones. Still, he said, the influx of federal dollars could take some budget strain off the city and thus free up more local spending on rail.

Hirono, Schatz, and most other Democrats in Congress now aim to pass a separate, ambitious social spending package valued at some $3.5 trillion. Hawaii Rep. Ed Case is among a handful of fiscally conservative Democrats threatening that bill, dubbed “Build Back Better.

Schatz said Monday that he’s had recent discussions with Case regarding Build Back Better but preferred to keep the contents of those discussions confidential.

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