By on February 12, 2018

Donald Trump, public domain

Few things are sexier than a new road. The scent of fresh tar, smooth pavement that’s still warm to the touch — it’s an absolute feast for the senses. After roughly a year of waiting, President Trump finally seems poised to deliver on a bunch of them. The White House has just offered Congress a 53-page report detailing exactly how to rattle loose $1.5 trillion in investments into the country’s ailing infrastructure.

Maybe “poised” is the wrong word to use; how about we just say that he’s been interested in the idea that somebody should build them.

Expect Democrats to complain that the plan totally fails to create a dedicated funding stream to address the infrastructure issue and Republicans to gripe about how the small federal investment, set at $200 billion, is still far too large. It’s a beautiful system we have here. 

As for the nuances of the plan, the report outlines a federal investment of $200 billion to encourage states, localities, and especially the private sector to come up with the remaining $1.3 trillion balance. However, only half of the federal sum goes in without strings attached; the other $100 billion goes toward matching funds that states and cities commit to fixing up their own roadways, rail networks, and waterworks.

The White House also claims there will be an additional $50 billion in block grants allocated for governors wanting to fund rural infrastructure projects and a $20 billion increase in loans and bonds to finance various infrastructure projects.

“For too long, lawmakers have invested in infrastructure inefficiently, ignored critical needs, and allowed it to deteriorate,” Trump told Congress during the plan’s introduction. “It is time to give Americans the working, modern infrastructure they deserve.”

The core element to Trump’s strategy is something he’s outlined before, although not in great detail. That’s the proposed streamlining of environmental reviews. Trump believes, by putting a single agency in charge of the regulatory effort, imposing a 21-month deadline for completing project assessments, and a 3-month window for final action, he can drastically expedite the building process.

Unfortunately, environmental advocacy groups have already condemned that strategy for being irresponsible. One sticking point is handing approvals of oil and gas pipelines that cross lands controlled by the National Park Service over to the U.S. Department of the Interior. The White House says requiring each pipeline to get congressional approval is needlessly time consuming and slows progress.

Another criticism of the plan is that it caters too much toward business interests. In fact, the reports says preferential treatment will be given to grant applicants that can provide revenue through raised local taxes, service fees, or road tolls. It does not, however, suggest bolstering revenue through traditional means, like increasing the federal gas tax. Instead, the White House has suggested local lawmakers pay for the infrastructure proposal by cutting funding for other transportation programs like Amtrak or the Highway Trust Fund — both heavily dependent on the fuel tax.

Democrats won’t like that, and the proposal arrives in the wake of a $1.5 trillion tax cut and a $300 billion spending measure signed by the president last week that will add to the federal budget deficit, meaning Republicans will probably take issue with anything that might risk further financial shortfalls. Convincing either of them to pass a bill in the Senate isn’t going to be easy.

The upside is that large companies might be into the elimination of a cumbersome permitting processes. Ditching some of the regulatory red tape, which has been the cornerstone of Trump’s presidency thus far, might convince groups to put money into the country’s infrastructure. It had better, since only a small fraction of the plan’s $1.5 trillion comes from federal spending.

Last week, the president told Republican lawmakers at a West Virginia retreat that it was imperative the country “streamline the horrible approval process — roadways that take 12, 13, 14 years to get approved.”

“We used to build them in three months, and now it takes years and years of approvals,” Trump explained. “We’re going to bring that down, ideally, to one year. Two years is our goal, but one year is our real goal.”

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50 Comments on “Here Come the Roads: President ‘Big Daddy’ Trump Unveils Infrastructure Plan...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Block grants? That’s highway robbery, not a highway program. State legislatures tend to be rabbit holes for grant money.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Don’t worry, the states won’t be paying for it because they ain’t got the money. They’ll sell the rights to your roads to private companies, who will then sell access to you for whatever they want to charge, with no taxpayer input whatsoever.

      This is the unfortunate endgame for the “All Taxes Are Bad” argument. And we’ll soon find out that we’d have been better off paying the damn tax for it to begin with, despite the well known inefficiency (or flat-out corruption) that states are known for.

      • 0 avatar
        TW5

        All-taxes-are-bad is more or less blunt truth at this point.

        We’ve endured 5 decades of stone-cold morons transferring every spare penny into retirement benefit programs that don’t actually exist. They are merely a pile of IOU’s, yet we’ve been raising taxes to bailout these IOUs for as long as they have existed. To make matters worse these unfunded nightmares are among the most popular programs in America.

        The average person is soylent green. The all-taxes-are-bad-doctrine is the only thing keeping this country afloat, even if it means we are forced to deal with potholes.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          TW5,
          I agree with the unfunded debt. The US is not the only country facing this issue.

          An easy way to fund transport infrastructure would be to remove the monthly seniors welfare cheque. Only remove it from those who have enough resources to support themselves.

          This money could be transferred towards medical and transport needs for the US. And taxes don’t need to be lifted.

          I know people will whine that they have paid taxes all their lives. But, then why is the country in so much debt? They these whiners are the ones who have voted and put the US where it is now, so they should pay.

          • 0 avatar
            TW5

            @Al

            Yes, that is the best way to fund a myriad of defunded government programs, particularly in the US where public pension is supposed to be operated as insurance, not an guarantee. However, Social Security reform is not going to happen. Too many voters are enamored with bankrupting their own children and grandchildren to make sure inheritances are subsidized. At this point we can merely endeavor to contain the cancer until a future generation is ready to get serious.

      • 0 avatar
        Sub-600

        All taxes are bad in NYS, where I reside. I believe only Louisiana is more corrupt. Governor Cuomo runs a cheap-jack mafia and calls it an administration. Block grants may as well be dispersed in brown paper bags behind a motel. I’d rather deal with just the federal graft and skip the NYS middle man. The number one proposal on the docket two years ago was wether or not ethics reform was necessary. If you aren’t a liberal who wants to incentivize teen pregnancy or provide room and board to illegal aliens, then you have no representation here. So much federal money is blown on this mega-welfare state that it’s a wonder there are any paved roads. The NYS Thruway, a rather large toll road, isn’t operated and maintained by a private company either, perhaps it should be, then we could avoid the stratospheric pensions. The roads and bridges aren’t broken, the government is.

      • 0 avatar
        Erikstrawn

        “Don’t worry, the states won’t be paying for it because they ain’t got the money. They’ll sell the rights to your roads to private companies, who will then sell access to you for whatever they want to charge, with no taxpayer input whatsoever.”

        Too true. There aren’t any new highways, only new turnpikes, built with taxpayer money and handed over to a single private company to manage. They’re building a new turnpike a mile from my house, and I turned out to protest (with a thousand others) only to be told, “Too late, we’re doing it anyways.” All the planning had been done secretly to keep the local landowners from protesting – it had been blocked twice before.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    Private investment will only happen where tolls can be implemented to yield revenue returns. How many of the critical bridge repairs fit into that scenario?

    Grover Norquist and his tax pledge have destroyed this nation’s ability to the sensible thing, raise fuel and usage taxes to create the revenue stream needed for maintenance.

    • 0 avatar
      210delray

      I agree. Both the Dems and GOP have decided they want higher spending to satisfy their constituents. So reality should be faced and taxes raised to stop the spiral of the ever-growing national debt. An increased gas tax is a no-brainer in my view, when it’s been stuck at 18.3 cents/gallon since 1993, with not even an adjustment for inflation.

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      Texas has a couple of highways that are EZ Pass only toll roads. Not very useful for visitors or those who don’t need the Pass for every day use. And I as a dumb hick from the sticks will get in the wrong lane which of course pisses off everyone behind me. Welcome to your distobian traffic.

      • 0 avatar
        IHateCars

        Visitors and occasional users can still use EZ Pass toll roads, camera will take a photo of your plate and e-mail you a bill later. Not 100% foolproof but better than nothing!

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      Let’s raise fuel and usage taxes, which disproportionately affect the poor, so we can provide economic benefits to the businesses and governments who glean wealth and power from our road infrastructure.

      Or maybe roads should be paid for with income taxes, which more accurately reflect benefit-to-tax.

      Excise tax on gasoline is preferable to CAFE. That’s not saying much. AIDS is preferable to pancreatic cancer.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        TW5,
        How do you figure increasing fuel taxes disproportionately affect the poor.

        I can name most every other developed economy on the planet has higher fuel tax and the poor are better off.

        Your argument can’t be supported by any data.

        If fuel costs more you purchase a vehicle you can afford to operate. So, if you have a V8 pickup at the moment you could probably drive a V6 pickup and so forth.

        What fanciful nonsense you present.

        • 0 avatar
          bking12762

          Big Al-Please support your argument that “most every other developed economy on the planet has higher fuel tax and the poor are better off.” Can YOUR argument be supported by any data?

        • 0 avatar
          TW5

          @Al

          The economics behind the incidence of tax are relatively straightforward. Consumption taxes (fuel excise in this case) is almost always disproportionately incurred by people who spend most of their money on consumption. The poor and fixed-income elderly always pay more than other demographics when sales and excise taxes are introduced.

          Unfortunately, I suspect this is the goal. By raising federal tax on gasoline by 500%-600%, huge cost of living adjustments will be required for public pension. More funds will be diverted into entitlements for non-workers. This process is what undermined the transportation budget in the first place. Regulators will whine for more fuel taxes.

          The poor are not better off in other countries. Other countries spend more money to keep people poor. That is not more humane than the US proclivity for social Darwinism. In fact, it may be far less humane because high taxes mean the poor and lower middle class have little or no upward mobility. This hasn’t traditionally been the case in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      The Texas experiment with a private highway paid for with tolls has been a complete and total disaster. Well, OK, the road hasn’t fallen into a river but it falling into a state of disrepair, sections not completed, and the company that built it and planned to make a profit on it is completely bankrupt.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        APaGttH,
        Toll roads have become a popular way to build infrastructure in Australia. I don’t support this as the companies charge high prices to use these “public” ways.

        I would rather see an increase in tax to fund these roads.

        Taxes can be good or bad. Any tax that is used to invest in infrastructure is a good tax.

        Also in Australia road building is used as a sweetner prior to an election. It’s good to see the road, but there are more pressing issues for road infrastructure that would be of more use to the country.

      • 0 avatar
        Tinn-Can

        They should have made 130 free and turn I35 from Georgtown to Buda into a toll road… Or close 90% of the entrance ramps in the Austin area to keep local traffic off the highway…

  • avatar
    DearS

    An F-ing mess! Why would the private sector pay for anything unless it gets to collect rent from the rest of us and get more money from the state?

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Don’t worry, it ain’t gonna happen. The ‘crats are going to fight Trump tooth and nail on ANY of his proposals. It’s political and has nothing to do with the betterment of America.

      What will be more interesting to watch will be the unknown outcome of the Immigration debates. Trump really put the ‘crats between a rock and a hard place. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

      Congress also has the option to raise fuel taxes. And they will since that hasn’t been done in over 25 years. Now THAT will disapportianately affect the lower-income working people. So no toll roads. But maybe higher fuel taxes to fund the highways.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        It boils down to:

        1) Increased gas tax, or
        2) Get ready to sell our roads to private companies who can then charge whatever the f**k they want for us to use them, with no taxpayer input whatsoever.

        I’ll take 1), with all its’ faults and warts.

        • 0 avatar
          TW5

          Those aren’t the options. The budget is $4T. We don’t need more money to pay for something specifically enumerated in the constitution.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          FreedMike, I believe it will be a combination of the two options you listed and some other variants that are effective based on locality.

          Raising the gas tax in CA where it already drives the cost of fuel up more than a dollar more than in AZ or NV, is unlikely to be voted for by the people (except maybe in Silicon Valley).

          But the toll-road concept has merit. They are already in use in several states, like those with toll Turnpikes and those with dedicated high-speed toll lanes, like El Paso, etc.

          For every toll road, toll bridge or whatever, there must also be another option that does not charge a toll because not everyone can afford to pay these tolls.

          And lastly, these toll concepts can only be applied in high-traffic, densely populated areas, which leaves out the majority of the US.

          I say, bring it on! The last time I drove an 18-wheeler full of cattle on the Kansas Turnpike for my son, it was a great experience for me, even at the max speed of 73mph, which was all that the Tractor would do on a flat road, pedal to the metal.

          The toll road in TX has no enforced speedlimit, and people fly low, even if their tires aren’t rated for it.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        …The ‘crats are going to fight Trump tooth and nail on ANY of his proposals. It’s political and has nothing to do with the betterment of America…

        You are correct. I guess they tore the page out of the Republican playbook used during the Obama era. Good for the goose…good for the gander – or eat your own dog food.

        The idea having states being a contributing source is a good one. But the states are often low on cash and some have been increasing their spending on infrastructure because federal dollars have become rather scarce. What is not a good idea is expecting private investment. Those investors will rightly expect a return on their investment. Which means some kind of tolling. And if you follow the Corporate American model, it will mean trying to maximize outflow while minimizing the expenditure. That means roads build to a low price point instead of being built to the highest standard for long term durability. Virtually all new construction is built to minimize upfront costs while ignoring long term expenses, including the indirect ones. That is why, for example, tall city buildings are almost always a glass monstrosity. Super cheap to build (relatively speaking of course) vs staggeringly high energy costs. If that is the model used for roadways, 10 or so good salty winters will result in all the poorly install reinforcing steel rusting because the lack of inspection meant the steel was not provided enough concrete cover. Forget epoxy coated rebar – the coating plus the steel up sizing required will be deemed too expensive.

        Environmental review? If Pruitt is in charge don’t even bother.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          golden2husky, I’m an Independent, didn’t vote for Trump and am only concerned with how policy affects me and mine.

          My observation is that the last guy in office formulated policy that was politically driven by the libby lefties and not good for most Americans. Hence, opposition from the Repugs.

          The new guy, Trump, is not loved by anyone and has to do battle with both the Repugnants and ‘crats. So far, he’s winning.

          So it is imperative for him that he gets it right when he sets policy that is going to be best for most Americans.

          And that’s what Populism is all about. Trump was elected by the long-suffering silent majority, who reside mostly away from large metropolitan centers.

          The stuff that Trump has already accomplished during the past 12 months is truly amazing and has both political parties disoriented and spinning on their heels.

          EPA? Look for it to be marginalized and minimized, like so many other Depts and agencies. Rollbacks? Count on them.

          It’s all part of draining the swamp by i.e. not filling vacancies. Hey, it saves money!

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Take a look at the Grand Parkway, route 99 around Houston. It’s a toll road, but it got built stupid fast because the contractors were offered bonuses for time-dependent milestones. I believe hitting all the milestones would double their money, and that’s exactly what they did. What they need to do is not go for the bottom feeder bids when making new roads, because they always wind up costing more in “unforeseen costs” and terrible initial quality that needs constant repairs later.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Trump does know how to build econimically. Can’t we just use a few of his good ideas? One would be to get all the work done first and then just screw the contractors.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    “OK so I’ll put up $200 billion and you guys come up with the other $1.3 trillion and I’ll put my name on it.”

    “See how easy that was.”

    • 0 avatar
      IBx1

      Divide that by 50 states and it’s $26B each. Weigh it by population and it’s probably at most a direct match at $200B for the biggest states or the ones that need the most work.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        And for those states that object, the project will just work around them, not include them.

        Seems reasonable to me.

        If some states choose not to pony up, they’ll get by-passed.

        And that’s lost revenue, since money is fungible.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Not sure why this isn’t just called the “Let’s Sell All Our Roads To Private Companies Act.”

    Hey, if that’s what it is, then call it by that name, and let the voters decide.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    Perhaps it should be called “The Feds Will Watch States Spend $1.3T on Infrastructure Plan”

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The Indiana toll road is a case study in failure of privatizing roadways. The Australian operator filed for bankruptcy just 8 years into the 75 year contract.

    https://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/11/18/the-indiana-toll-road-and-the-dark-side-of-privately-financed-highways/

    “At a time when government and Wall Street are raring to team up on privately financed infrastructure, a look at the Indiana Toll Road reveals several of the red flags to beware in all such deals: an opaque agreement based on proprietary information the public cannot access; a profit-making strategy by the private financier that relies on securitization and fees, divorced from the actual infrastructure product or service; and faulty assumptions underpinning the initial investment, which can incur huge public expense down the line. Though made in the name of innovation and efficiency, private finance deals are often more expensive than conventional bonding, threatening to suck money from taxpayers while propping up infrastructure projects that should never get built.”

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Sometimes the private sector is the best way, sometimes not. I have no problem with a 20 cent per gallon gas tax if it was put into a lockbox and could not raided for other uses. Other sources will be needed but it is a start.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Yup, again people blame social security and welfare. I have yet to hear anyone blame Mexico for the lack of infrastructure spending in the US.

    I think maybe the handouts and welfare PRIVATE business (incld farmers) receive should stop. Use that money to develop infrastructure that will help ALL Americans and not just cater for the 1%, and some corn farmers.

    Remember infrastructure where it help the most is the best. Once you start to classify and scale welfare to private enterprise at the expense of the population you will see what is occurring in the US. A disproportionate society.

  • avatar
    Astigmatism

    “Expect Democrats to complain that the plan totally fails to create a dedicated funding stream to address the infrastructure issue and Republicans to gripe about how the small federal investment, set at $200 billion, is still far too large.”

    Actually, Matt, what the Democrats have been pointing out is that the $200 billion in “new” infrastructure spending is less than the _$240 billion_ that the same budget _subtracts_ from other planned infrastructure spending – meaning that we’re supposed to get a bunch of wonderful new roads for the low, low price of minus 40 billion dollars.

    Policy is easy if you can just ignore reality and common sense.

  • avatar
    Loser

    No worries, Trump will get Mexico to pay for it. Believe me 100 precent!

  • avatar
    levaris

    Keep in mind that “infrastructure” in this case means a lot more than roads, he is also talking about ports, hospitals, schools, and the utilities. It will be interesting to see how many actual roads are built.

  • avatar

    Hopefully it will turn out better than Cash for Clunkers.

  • avatar
    Stevo

    I count the low federal match as the very first thing I have agreed with Trump on. The high historical share of federal spending on infrastructure projects has led to overbuilding of visible ribbon cutting projects like roads that aren’t truly needed (add congestion tolling and, wow, suddenly there is excess capacity). Our infrastructure under ground is far more critical to our way of life and in greater need of investment than adding road miles. Start with the oldest water and sewer mains, add stormwater drainage and conduits for data and start rebuilding, up to the source for water and down to upgraded sewage treatment plants for waste. It is time to buck up Americans.

  • avatar
    cartunez

    Rise the local and federal gas tax and don’t steal this money this time (pinky swear). I hate toll roads

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