Facing rising gas prices, President Joe Biden made the case that his infrastructure bill is the thing that will really bring prices down.
In a May 10 press conference, the president was asked whether his administration would ask the public to “drive less, to take public transport.”
“Well, if you ever raised a family like mine, you don’t have to tell ‘em,” Biden replied. “They’re doing everything in their power to figure out how not to have to show up at the gas pump. That’s why, for example, one of the things that’s going to help a lot, but it’s going to take time, is our infrastructure bill.”
The president elaborated, “The truth is, they don’t have that many options in terms of transportation around the country right now. If you’re living in the Northeast corridor, you do. If you’re driving back and forth between Baltimore, Washington, New York, etc. But you don’t have many choices. You don’t have a whole lot of choices to deal with other aspects of transportation, in terms of local transportation. ... Buying a ticket on a plane costs more because of gas prices. So, this is a process, but it’s a process that I’ve been consistent about wanting to lower prices and shift to renewable energy so we’re not as dependent.”
None of the four transportation experts that the Washington Examiner consulted on this matter agreed with Biden that the infrastructure bill that he signed would address the present problem. Instead, their skepticism ran from the "Nice try, Mr. President" variety to sterner stuff.
“Short answer: The Biden infrastructure law should produce reduced demand for gasoline once projects now being allocated funding [are] completed and operational, but that is years away,” said Jeff Davis, a senior fellow at the Eno Center for Transportation. “And the infrastructure bill does not address the supply side of the oil and gas price equation.”
Davis’s longer answer was even more conditional, including several “ifs” and a timetable showing no infrastructure relief is in the offing for the current oil shortage.
“If states and cities choose to use much of their formula funding for projects that increase mass transit availability, frequency, and reliability, make intercity rail service in the Northeast Corridor more attractive, and do more to connect airports to mass transit, and if Congress also passes something like the part of [Biden’s stalled Build Back Better bill] that reduces the sticker price of electric automobiles to make them price-competitive with [internal combustion engine] vehicles to accelerate fleet turnover, then 8 to 10 years from now, gasoline consumption will be measurably less than it would have been without the Biden agenda,” he said.
Philip Rossetti, a senior fellow on the R Street Institute’s energy project, agreed about the time frame.
"The bipartisan infrastructure package represents investments that will be made over the next few years and will do little to alleviate gas prices in the near term,” Rossetti said. “Even the transportation investments the president mentioned aren't likely to reduce gasoline demand by much. High prices now are simply caused by a lot of demand and low supply, and the best path forward is to remove barriers to private sector investment."
Marc Scribner, the transportation policy analyst for the Reason Foundation, was still more skeptical.
“Infrastructure construction tends to increase fuel prices, not reduce them, and higher fuel prices increase construction costs,” Scribner told the Washington Examiner. “The bipartisan infrastructure law is inflationary across every commodity it touches, from steel to asphalt. Worse, the Biden White House is intentionally implementing it to maximize labor costs and materials protectionism, so Americans should prepare for years of spending more to get less.”
Steven Polzin, a research professor of transportation at Arizona State University, argued that the Biden administration ultimately won’t have much effect on oil prices, one way or another.
“A cynic might say that a significant element of infrastructure that could impact fuel prices, both directly and indirectly through its symbolic messaging, is the Keystone pipeline that was canceled,” Polzin said.
He qualified that cynicism by adding, “In a more substantive way, there are certainly elements of the infrastructure plan that will influence demand and thus potentially influence the supply-demand situation putting downward pressure on fuel prices. But, as the administration has said on multiple occasions, energy pricing is highly dependent on a global market for portable fuels such that modest changes in domestic demand are unlikely to have a meaningful influence on global oil prices.”