N.J. union leaders ready to implement all aspects of $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill

It’s easy to see all the generational infrastructure projects that will come to New Jersey, thanks to the $1.2 trillion bill that was passed by Congress over the weekend.

There’s the headline-grabbing Gateway Tunnel project, the more than $1 billion set aside for bridges, more than $4 billion for transit, $100 million for electric vehicle charging stations, plus plenty of other projects and initiatives.

But this is about more than just shovel-ready projects. This is a jobs bill. And union leaders say they are ready to go.

Greg Lalevee. (File photo)

“We’ve had a robust recruiting program for the past four or five years,” Greg Lalevee, business manager of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825, told ROI-NJ.Having people interested in being operating engineers has never really been a problem.

“We feel we’ve added so many skilled individuals.”

The efforts, Lalevee said, are ongoing.

IUOE Local 825 announced last week that it would begin taking applications for its next apprentice class Nov. 15 — and that the organization has been overwhelmed with interest. And that was before the infrastructure bill was passed.

The key going forward, Lalevee said, will be matching the skills of the workers to the variety of jobs needed — and creating programs for those needs.

Lalevee points to a new program for the asphalt industry that was started a few years back.

“It’s been running for three years, and it’s been successful,” he said. “Now, we’re going to figure out how to sharpen people up for waterworks; we’re trying to sharpen people’s skills on utility work.

“It’s really about getting people in, helping them develop those skills and then figuring out where they fit best.”

Mark Longo. (File photo)

Mark Longo, director of ELEC 825, is happy for the opportunity to do all this. He knows what it will mean for the state.

“Today’s long-awaited passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill is a huge step forward for the nation’s roads, bridges, rails and other crucial infrastructure systems,” he said. “As we rebuild our economy in the wake of the pandemic, infrastructure spending is a critical component in realizing economic growth — encouraging commerce, making our communities a safer place to live and incentivizing further private investment throughout the economy.”

Robert Briant Jr. (UTCA)

Robert Briant Jr., the CEO of the Utility & Transportation Contractors Association, said the passage of the bill will be a game-changer for everyone.

“I have said it before and I will say it again: The bipartisan infrastructure bill represents the best possible kind of investment we can make in our country’s future,” he said. “A long-term, properly funded plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure is just what we need. It means safer, more reliable roads, bridges and water infrastructure while creating thousands of good-paying jobs. We could not afford to let this opportunity go by.”

Now, the key is getting all these projects started.

The idea that the Portal Bridge project and the Gateway Tunnel project will be going simultaneously adds to the potential.

“Given how long it took to get here, we must double down to accelerate the speed and progress of these projects, so we can get this critical work done for our communities,” Briant said. “Our members, along with our partners in labor, stand ready, willing and able to get started.”

The passage of the bill was praised by many government and business leaders. Here are just some of the numerous statements released this weekend:

  • Gov. Phil Murphy: “New Jerseyans stand to benefit immensely from unprecedented investments in infrastructure. The bipartisan infrastructure bill delivers billions of dollars for the Gateway Program, the largest critical infrastructure project in the United States, bringing commuters the relief that they deserve. This legislation also includes significant funding for the expansion of broadband internet, addressing a key issue that impacts underserved areas of New Jersey and will be a game-changer for those residing in them.”
  • Amtrak board Chair Tony Coscia: “The passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides historic levels of investment for intercity passenger rail in this country and the start of a whole new era for improved and expanded Amtrak service. We are grateful to the administration and Congress for their belief in Amtrak and the power of passenger rail to help tackle the climate crisis, create economic opportunity and expand mobility for our nation.”
  • Gateway Development Commission (Balpreet Grewal-Virk, Steven Cohen and Coscia): “The bill will mean relief for the hundreds of thousands of daily riders who utilize the Northeast Corridor, by finally replacing a delay-prone, 110-year-old, one-track-in, one-track-out system with reliable, resilient, 21st-century rail transportation.”
  • U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th Dist.): “The historic infrastructure legislation will help build the new Gateway train tunnel, fix our crumbling roads, bridges and NJ Transit, address climate resiliency and help get lead out of our children’s drinking water. It will also invest in electric vehicles and broadband for the unconnected, and it will help create 2 million jobs a year for the next decade.”