Infrastructure principles coming soon from Trump administration
I attended the kick-off event for Infrastructure Week on Monday morning and had the opportunity to hear directly from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao about the Administration’s infrastructure package. She started by promising to deliver a vision and principles for such an infrastructure package in the next weeks. Secretary Chao stated that the Administration had been going through a thorough process to develop the plan with over 16 federal agencies and multiple stakeholders weighing in. (Most of those stakeholders seem to be from the business community.)
The principles she laid out included were:
- Encouraging public-private partnerships. Chao stated that through the process she has heard from business stakeholders and potential partners that there is “ample funding” available for building infrastructure.
- This contradicts a Republican led Congressional task force from 2014. After studying the potential of public-private partnerships (P3s), a committee of Transportation & Infrastructure committee members found that, while P3s play a valuable role in certain projects, it was a relatively small role. Between 1998 and 2013, P3s represented 1.5% of the 4 trillion dollars spent on transportation in the US.
- Streamlining regulations.These potential funders told Chao the reason they haven’t invested yet is because of the permitting and regulatory requirements. Chao used the example of the Atlanta highway which caught on fire last month — saying that by streamlining regulations, that highway will be able to be rebuilt in 10 weeks instead of many years.
- US Department of Transportation hasn’t implemented streamlining provisions from MAP-21 (2012) or FAST Act (2015). Senator Carper (D-DE), the Ranking Democrat on the Environment & Public Works committee in the Senate, has raised concerns over new streamlining provision. He argues that the streamlining provisions from 2012 have not been fully implemented, and when new regulations were included in the FAST Act, the new regulations complicated implementation of MAP-21. He argues that Congress shouldn’t write any new streamlining provisions until existing ones are implemented.
- Direct funding. Secretary Chao also reiterated a need for new public funding. At present the Trump Administration is asking for $200 billion in new funding for infrastructure. This funding will mostly be used as incentives for investors and state and local governments to increase their investment in infrastructure.
However, some of that funding will be used for projects that are not good candidates for private partnerships. She said this small subset of specific projects will be projects that will increase Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth or are projects that “lift the American spirit.”
How does this affect bicycling and walking?
While riding a bike on safe infrastructure definitely lifts the spirit, I’m not sure this is the type of project Secretary Chao has in mind. I think the Trump Administration is thinking more about things like the Hoover Dam!
So how do biking and walking fit into this plan? I’m not sure. I’m hoping that enough resources will make it to the local level so that Mayors and Communities will have a role to play, but signs are pointing towards larger projects and projects that the Administration defines as efficient and of national or regional significance.
Congress will weigh in
The reality is though that the Administration is writing principles, but it will be Congress that determines where the funding comes from, and what will be eligible. While Congress definitely has ideas on how to spend the money, so far there is no funding plan with any momentum.
Caron Whitaker is Director of Bike Walk Action.