No one is quite sure yet how long it will take for $1.2 trillion in federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to begin flowing to communities across the nation, but Duluth Mayor Emily Larson expressed confidence the city has a compelling story to tell.

States will have considerable discretion in the disbursement of infrastructure funds, and she predicts the scramble for the $982 million Minnesota expects to receive will be intensely competitive.

“The process is still being defined. And so, we spend time every single day trying to track down how that is going,” Larson said.

“We are eager to make our case for how we think that bill can benefit Duluth and the region,” she said.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson. 
Contributed / City of Duluth
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson. Contributed / City of Duluth

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Some of the funding could go to change out about 5,000 old lead city water lines that still remain in use throughout Duluth. Larson said replacing those pipes could cost in the neighborhood of $50 million. And that’s just to cover public infrastructure, as thousands of additional private lead lateral lines also await replacement.

Larson said her home is one of those older dwellings fed by lead pipe.

“We want to do as much as we can to replace public lines and then I’m not sure what’s going to be possible for us to address the private lines,” she said.

SEE ALSO: Duluth water tests reveal alarming lead levels in many older homes

Besides lead pipes, Duluth also has a number of old water pipes that are simply failing, with parts of the system dating back to the 1920s. Larson said leaky pipes waste precious water and energy, as Duluth spends more on the electricity needed to pump water across the city and up the hillside than it does on any other function.

Minnesota is slated to receive about $302 million for bridge replacement and repairs over the next five years, and Larson has her eye on a sliver of that funding, as well.

While Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge remains structurally sound and in good working order, she notes that keeping it that way comes with an ongoing cost. The iconic bridge is currently in need of between an estimated $15 million and $16 million worth of work, including mechanical updates and paint.

Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge, pictured here in November 2017, is in need of an estimated $15 million to $16 million worth of work and could benefit from recently approved federal infrastructure funds.
Bob King / 2017 file / Duluth News Tribune
Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge, pictured here in November 2017, is in need of an estimated $15 million to $16 million worth of work and could benefit from recently approved federal infrastructure funds. Bob King / 2017 file / Duluth News Tribune

Larson noted that maintaining a dependable Aerial Lift Bridge is crucial not only for local motorists but for national and even international commerce, as Duluth remains the busiest port on the Great Lakes, in terms of total tonnage handled.

The infrastructure bill contains funding to help communities prepare for extreme weather events, such as the devastating 2012 flood and storms in recent years that have battered and severely damaged Duluth’s shoreline, including its popular Lakewalk.

Ron Benson, of Duluth, surveys the storm damage to the road at Duluth's Brighton Beach in October 2018.  
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune
Ron Benson, of Duluth, surveys the storm damage to the road at Duluth's Brighton Beach in October 2018. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

“We are able to quantify very quickly, with some experience, how much climate change costs our community. And there are things we need to be doing proactively — so we’re not doing as much reactively — and also system-wide,” Larson said

Left to their own devices, she said cities would be hard-pressed to meet many of the neglected infrastructure needs they face.

“It is important to get the word out to the public that this federal infrastructure bill is a big deal, and it is well overdue recognition that the federal government has a part to play with municipalities and counties and other layers of government to support the infrastructure that’s needed to keep our economies and our communities going,” Larson said.