The on-again, off-again, much-ballyooed $1 trillion infrastructure program promised by the fledgling Trump administration is on again. Sort of.
After failing on its longstanding promise to fix Obamacare before moving onto the very complicated task of tax reform, the administration has sent conflicting messages about infrastructure.
At first, it was a go immediately. Then it was relegated after tax reform, which meant 2018 - or maybe never.
Now, at this moment, it’s a go ahead. Perhaps as early as May. Or maybe not.
“We want to do a great infrastructure plan,” Trump told the New York Times. “I think it’s going to be one of the very bipartisan bills and it’s going to happen.”
Then, just as if he were dousing hopes of a simple infrastructure bill unencumbered with partisan politics, the mercurial president added: “I may put it in with health care.”
So much for simple.
At least, Trump is now vowing to cut red tape to speed up approval of infrastructure projects and said his overhaul could top $1 trillion on roads, tunnels and bridges, one of his many campaign promises.
His comments came at a White House meeting of 50 chief executives and other business leaders.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said recently the administration plans to release a legislative package in May of this year.
Investors have become more skeptical that the plan would win approval this year in Congress, which is controlled by Republicans who are traditionally wary of big government spending programs such as this.
Chao also said that DOT “has a budget of $70 billion and we don’t build anything.” She was referring to the billions that DOT distributes Highway Trust Fund dollars through a formula that essentially acts as a block grant to states.
Chao now says “money is not the problem,” adding:
“There’s lots of money chasing too few deals. And so what we need to do is somehow work on the upstream part of rebuilding our infrastructure, and that is to let loose the permitting process so that deregulatory efforts can be ongoing.”
That process is slow.
Trump said building a highway can require dozens of approvals and take 10 to 20 years, a process he is promising to streamline.
Trump said he would not fund projects that cannot be started within 90 days.
Meanwhile, American Trucking Associations (ATA) is keeping the pressure on Capitol Hill.
FedEx Freight President and CEO Mike Ducker and Werner Enterprises President and CEO Derek Leathers both told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security, the U.S. must invest more in its roads and bridges so the trucking industry may continue to safely and efficiently move the nation’s goods.
“ATA and its members are continuing to tell our story on Capitol Hill and at the White House about need to improve our nation’s roads and bridges,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear.
“Our industry currently loses nearly $50 billion annually to congestion - that is unacceptable. We must unclog our arteries and highways and make our infrastructure safer and more efficient by investing in our roads and bridges.”
Read: ATA Members Call for Increased Infrastructure Investment
Meanwhile, states continue to act on their own to improve infrastructure in wake of the federal government’s inertia. California recently enacted a $52 billion highway improvement program.
It will be paid for by raising $5.2 billion a year for 10 years by increasing the vehicle registration fee by $25 to $175 depending on the value of the vehicle, raising gas and diesel taxes this year and creating a $100 annual fee on zero-emission vehicles beginning in 2020.
Related Article: Former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx Discusses President Trump’s Infrastructure Plan
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