Trump Releases Infrastructure Plan

Greater reliance on user fees, federal loans rather than grants, and corporatization are three keys to the Trump administration’s infrastructure initiative released as a part of its 2018 budget. The plan will “seek long-term reforms on how infrastructure projects are regulated, funded, delivered, and maintained,” says the six-page document. More federal funding “is not the solution,” says the document; instead, it is to “fix underlying incentives, procedures, and policies.”

In building the Interstate Highway System, the fact sheet observes, “the Federal Government played a key role” in collecting and distributing monies to “fund a project with a Federal purpose.” Since then, however, those user fees, mainly gas tax receipts, have been “inefficiently invested” in “non-federal infrastructure.”

As a result, the federal government today “acts as a complicated, costly middleman between the collection of revenue and the expenditure of those funds by States and localities.” To fix this, the administration will “explore” whether transferring “responsibilities to the States is appropriate.”

The document contains a number of specific proposals:

  • Allow states to toll interstate and other federally funded highways;
  • Encourage states to fix congestion using “congestion pricing, enhanced transit services, increased telecommuting and flex scheduling, and deployment of advanced technology”;
  • Corporatize air traffic control, as many other developed countries have done;
  • Streamline the environmental review process by having a one-stop federal permit process and “curtailing needless litigation”;
  • Expand the TIFIA loan program and lift the existing cap on private activity bonds, both of which will make more money available for infrastructure without increasing federal deficits.

The paper also includes proposals for reforming inland waterways, the Power Marketing Administration, and water infrastructure finance. Like the transportation proposals, these call for increased reliance on user fees, corporatization, privatization, or loans rather than grants.

“Corporatization” means creating a non-profit or for-profit corporation that may be government owned but doesn’t necessarily rely on taxpayer subsidies. Comsat is a classic example, but Canada and other countries’ air traffic control systems work in this way.

Except for air traffic control reform, Trump’s plan isn’t fleshed out in detail. But these ideas have all been tossed around enough that everyone pretty much knows what they mean. Most importantly, they mean a significant change in the way Washington deals with infrastructure.

Because it doesn’t contain a list of projects that members of Congress could take credit for, the plan has received relatively little notice in the media. Democrats, of course, are unhappy with it, but they would be unhappy no matter what Trump proposed.

One of the more controversial proposals is to allow the states to toll interstate highways. “I don’t like paying for a road twice,” Representative Sam Graves (R-MO), who chairs the Highways and Transit Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told The Hill. But, given that Congress has had to inject tens of billions of dollars of general funds into the highway trust fund in recent years, what makes Graves thinks existing user fees are paying for the roads now? All roads need maintenance and occasional rehabilitation, so the fact that user fees paid for construction 50 years ago doesn’t mean that costs stop.

The most important point is that Trump wants user fees to pay a greater share of infrastructure costs. Naturally, the transit lobby, which represents the most heavily subsidized form of transportation, per unit of output, is upset about this. But Trump’s agenda sounds good to anyone who wants an efficient, user-fee-driven infrastructure program.

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2 thoughts on “Trump Releases Infrastructure Plan

  1. LazyReader

    Infrastructure plans should have a golden rule. NO spending on any new infrastructure until whatever current systems they have are repaired. Since DC’s Redline will never be repaired, we’ll never have to worry about DC ever spending money on rail ever again. Silicon Valley has already rendered rail transit obsolete not with anything high tech ironically, a simple solution they shuttle their employees for free.

    I for one am less concerned about travel infrastructure and more for water infrastructure. For 50 years cities and municipalities have let the nations water supply infrastructure rust into oblivion. My hometown of Baltimore is no exception, they have a water main burst, pipe rupture or water sink hole every week. The cities plumbing is as old as it’s housing stock almost all of which is pre-war.

    When the government-run system in Flint, Michigan, poisoned people, pundits made it sound like cold-hearted Republican politicians created the problem. But government at all levels, both parties, failed in Flint. Government water departments routinely neglect basic maintenance. In Jersey City, New Jersey, they let the pipes rust. The water didn’t taste good, failed government’s own tests — and kept getting more expensive. City workers said there wasn’t anything they could do. “It can’t be done” is an answer heard in bureaucracies everywhere. So then mayor Brent Schundler did something unexpected, he put the water contract out for bid. A for-profit company won. Within months, the private company fixed pipes the government couldn’t fix, and whatever they couldn’t fix they replaced. Ironically the private company hired the same government workers.

    However a lot of water delivery, treatment and sewage sadly are beyond conventional reproach. Treatment is a heavily energy and machine laden approach. Repairing water/sewage treatment plants costs hundreds of millions of dollars, even then they can only accommodate the effluent they were designed to handle decades ago. Upgrading/expanding costs billions, building new ones cost billions more. We cant afford these massive monolithic machines, we have to revert to a cellular approach. Since the 80’s Dr. John Todd conceived the “Living Machine” a patented form of ecological sewage treatment designed to mimic the cleansing functions found in biology. Virtually everything we use daily is made up of four elements, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Carbon and Nitrogen, mechanical treatment is so wasteful it simply uses filters and toxic chemicals to get rid of these elements in one form or another then dump the residuals in a landfill. The living machine uses metabolism to convert these wastes into useful byproducts. In nature there is no “waste” as virtually everything is consumable by something else. In nature, the food chain is natures recycling system. And with the materials biology “manufactures” things, flowers, fruit, fish, algae none of which does anything harmful or requires special handling if it’s disposed into the environment.

    The advantage of the system is that it’s akin to no more than being good at gardening. The downside it cant handle the massive volume of wastewater from a single source. However I believe when the technology becomes more accepted and mainstream we’ll have this system implemented on the local level. where small towns or various neighborhoods can handle all their waste water. Not to mention handle the entire volume of agricultural waste effluent that harms water and the environment. Infrastructure is always a hot button topic in political debate, namely cause it’s expensive or when the cities budget is trimmed infrastructure is the first thing to collapse, namely cause infrastructure is always net drain on finances, while there’s no debate infrastructure affects economics. But the living machine is the only infrastructure that produces things of value. Flowers, fruit, fish, insects, clams, oysters, algae all of which are sellable, edible or useable.

  2. LazyReader

    “Streamline the environmental review process by having a one-stop federal permit process and “curtailing needless litigation”

    I wish they could do that at the nuclear regulatory commission. The NRC has 3,815 employees, the US only has 99 reactors. So it takes 30 people to authorize and regulate one reactor. Why are these plants always so expensive, when you get down to it a nuclear reactor is a pressure cooker with concrete poured on it. With US projects pushing 10-15 billion dollars. Westinghouse is now bankrupt and projects that had guarantees are now shelved. Meanwhile China, India and Russia are steaming ahead both in nuclear research and deployment and meanwhile instead of STEM the Obama administration was busy subsidizing worthless liberal arts degrees. The primary reason nukes have problems here is the NRC. Has nothing to do with the environment, everything to do with safety.
    To simplify a nuclear generating station down to being a pressure cooker is so far out of touch with the complexity of what it is is hugely uninformed.
    Vogtle is failing because the contractor is incompetent, they failed to use 3D auto cad in the PEDP of the project and have had major issues with crafts using the same space. Everytime any little thing is modified, it requires government approval, which means delay, which means cost overruns.

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