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Rather than safety, access or improved infrastructure, Trump Infrastructure Proposal prioritizes leverage

The White House released its infrastructure plan this week, and frankly it isn’t what we were hoping for. The League believes our transportation system should be based on basic principles of safety first, connecting networks and local control. Instead the Trump plan prioritizes funding to those who have funding, crushing multimodal programs like TIGER, Amtrak and transit and crippling environmental safeguards.

This is the time to act.

Whether Congress passes an infrastructure bill this year or not, this discussion will be the starting point for the next transportation bill, due next Congress (2019-2020). The League and our allies need to respond now to this plan, to tell Congress that this isn’t good enough.

Yes, we need infrastructure investment, but we need investment that improves safety and access, reduces air pollution and congestion and builds a transportation system for tomorrow.

The Trump Infrastructure Principles:

Those with funding get more funding.

The White House plan is based on spending $200 Billion dollars over 10 years to build roads, bridges and water systems, extend broadband and clean up superfund and brownfield sites.

Half of that funding — a full $100 Billion — will go through an incentive program where the highest criteria is how much the local government can contribute to the project and its future upkeep. In other words, the funding won’t be distributed based on improving safety, access or reducing congestion, but just on how much public and private funding is offered. 

What kind of infrastructure pays for itself? Toll roads, parking meters and private airports.

That funding comes at the expense of transit, Amtrak and TIGER.

The White House’s budget (released at the same time) calls for zeroing out TIGER funds. (A program that funds multimodal projects based on need, access and a cost-benefit analysis), dramatically cuts Amtrak and phases out transit funding for expanding existing systems and starting new transit systems. The White House states this money is being “repurposed” into the infrastructure plan.

The White House’s 10-year budget plan also includes a significant cut to transportation funding after 2020. The plan calls for transportation funding to not exceed funds raised by the Highway Trust Fund (funded by the gas tax). That will result in almost a $150 billion cut in transportation funding over 10 years.

Last year, 250 Republican and Democratic Congress members called for a fix for the Highway Trust Fund to ensure long-term sustainable funding for transportation. This plan ignores that plea. The debate in Congress continues.   

Expediting projects comes at the expense of environmental safeguards.

The White House plan promotes expediting project delivery, but it does that through undermining environmental protections. For instance, the plan allows some types of construction (not just planning and design, actual construction) to occur before the environmental assessment has been finished. It also puts time limits on the length of environmental review, as well as appeals to the decision. One of the reasons the process takes so long is to ensure there is time for public input to be given, and considered. Adding time limits could limit the ability for communities to weigh in.

Congress has been working to expedite project delivery for years, including in the last two transportation bills, passed in 2012 and 2015. Recent studies show some of these reforms are working although many haven’t been fully implemented. Senator Tom Carper, Ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works has argued that we need to push for implementation of these reforms before making additional changes.

What Would the League Do?

If this were our infrastructure plan we would want to identify long-term sustainable funding (the League has supported an increase in the gas tax as a temporary measure until the U.S. develops a vehicle miles traveled tax or other sustainable funding source.) We would also follow different guiding principles such as:

A competitive process that prioritizes multimodal projects and projects that fix network gaps for all modes.

We agree with the idea of an incentive program, but the League believes that incentive program should prioritize projects that improve access and safety for everyone. That would mean:

•   Identifying and fixing networks gaps for all modes, including bicycling and walking networks. That may mean safe access across arterials and other busy roads, fixing sidewalk gaps and creating low stress bike networks;

•   Connecting networks, such as improving bicycling and pedestrian access to transit; and

•   Fix it First projects that include repair and maintenance and improved access across modes of existing roads and bridges and making existing streets complete streets.

Promotion of local control by increasing local governments’ decision making role for federal funds, and directly funding local governments.

State DOTs are focused on building transportation between communities, but local governments focus on building transportation systems within communities. Local governments should have more decision-making control on projects and programs within their borders.

We have seen with programs like TIGER, where communities can apply directly for federal funds, that bicycling, walking and transit do better.

Building infrastructure that can withstand natural disasters and changes in climate expected over the next 50 years

A 2017 EPA report states planning for extreme weather in our transportation plans could save the government 70% in future repairs due to coastal flooding, heat waves, etc. It would also help communities build resilience and recover quicker from natural disasters.

That resilience and mitigation planning should include building and maintaining biking and walking infrastructure. Just in 2017 we have seen bicycles used by rescue professionals and volunteers to deliver food and medical supplies after the Mexico City earthquake and provide transportation in Houston and Florida to hurricane survivors who had lost their cars.

At the National Bike Summit, bike advocates will be taking this vision of a safer transportation system which improves access for all – including bicyclists and pedestrians.  Please join us at the National Bike Summit or support us at home by watching our action alert system