Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Trump calls for $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending, shortening road permit process

Wednesday, January 31, 2018
by LYNDON FINNEY/The Trucker Staff

President Donald Trump told Congress Tuesday night that it is a disgrace that it can take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road. (Associated Press: PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS)
President Donald Trump told Congress Tuesday night that it is a disgrace that it can take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road. (Associated Press: PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump Tuesday night called on Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion to improve the nation’s “crumbling” infrastructure.

In his State of the Union address to Congress, Trump also called for measures to reduce the amount of time it takes to plan and complete an infrastructure project.

At no point did the president identify a source for funding the $1.5 trillion bill, which is more than the $1 trillion plan the White House had touted since Trump took office.

“America is a nation of builders,” Trump said. “We built the Empire State Building in just one year — is it not a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?  I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve.”

Trump said every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit.

“Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process, getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one,” Trump said. “Together, we can reclaim our building heritage.  We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land.  And we will do it with American heart, American hands, and American grit.”

The president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations commended Trump for making the infrastructure a priority.

“While the state of our union is strong, the same cannot be said about the state of our roads and bridges,” Chris Spear said. “So therefore, we join the president in calling on Congress to work with the administration on an infrastructure package that raises real revenue to meet the enormity of this challenge. Just as we did on tax reform, truckers are ready to help carry a solution forward.”

“Roads are not a partisan issue, they’re driven on by Republicans and Democrats alike,” Spear noted.

“As both sides of Capitol Hill know, modernizing our infrastructure will require a substantial investment — actual, real revenue. America cannot be rebuilt with funding gimmicks and finance schemes,” he said. “Trucking’s proposal, the Build America Fund, is efficient, conservative and viable, and will generate $340 billion of real money in the first 10 years. We look forward to working with Congress and the administration and educating the public on why a fuel user fee is the most cost-effective and conservative answer to fixing our deteriorating roads and bridges.”

“Our nation’s highway system has long been the envy of the world. The heart of it is a fuel tax with revenues collected going to roads and bridges,” said Todd Spencer, acting president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “It’s simple, efficient and it serves the very real needs of our country and its people.”

OOIDA believes the most efficient way to raise funds is with fuel taxes, both diesel and gasoline. “This is opposed to looking to private-public partnerships, the sale or lease of existing roads, or efforts to convert roads into tolled roads,” Spencer said.

ATA Chairman Dave Manning agreed, noting that 34 states had already increased their own fuel taxes and that a fuel tax was the only responsible and long-term funding solution. Manning, president of TCW in Nashville, Tennessee, attended the president’s speech.

Meanwhile, the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates expressed concerns about funding the plan.

“President Trump now touts a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package, in vague and grandiose terms that fail to address the most significant aspect of the plan — where funding will come from,” the alliance said in a prepared statement issued Tuesday night. “If Trump relies on the private sector and forcing states and localities to come up with their own funding, Trump’s infrastructure plan could result in a patchwork of tolls that span coast to coast. This approach is not innovative or good policy, it is simply a nationwide call for #TrumpTolls. There is a real opportunity for a long-term solution to our transportation infrastructure needs, but it shouldn’t include tolling our interstates.”

An infrastructure plan relying on tolls to pay for roads is a complete reversal of Trump’s commitment to putting America First, the alliance said.

“Although then-candidate Trump campaigned against lining the pockets of Wall Street and promised to be the voice for the working class, a plan pushing tolls would do the opposite. We urge President Trump not to choose Wall Street over Main Street. Tolls would take money from hardworking Americans and give huge profits to toll road investors — many of which are foreign companies. Tolls are a wildly inefficient tax, sacrificing money that could go toward construction instead going to corporate profits and administrative costs. In addition to the diversion onto secondary roads which causes congestion and public safety issues, tolls will do unimaginable harm to businesses, as shipping and manufacturing prices skyrocket to account for these new costs.”

State highway and transportation officials commended the president for investing in the infrastructure.

“We are pleased that President Trump continues to highlight the need for additional federal investment in infrastructure,” said Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

“AASHTO has for years called for a long-term strategy to shore up the Highway Trust Fund in order to maintain federal investment in surface transportation. We are looking forward to seeing the president’s infrastructure plan and working closely with the administration and Congress to advance a robust, long-term infrastructure bill that supports needed reforms such as streamlining project delivery in ways that also protect our natural resources.”

A statement by the White House issued during Trump’s address noted that the American infrastructure has fallen behind due to years of inaction and a broken permitting system.

The statement said:

  • The United States ranks 10th in the world in terms of quality of overall infrastructure, according to the World Economic Forum.
  • One out of every five miles of U.S. highway pavement is in poor condition.
  • Americans spent an estimated 6.9 billion hours delayed in traffic in 2014, or 42 hours per driver.
  • One third of America’s bridges are 50 years or older.
  • There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks every year in the U.S.
  • Red tape has held back American infrastructure investment, and
  • The median time to complete an environmental review process of complex highway projects is at least seven years, according to a 2014 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Sans the funding issue, the White House statement expanded on what Trump said during his address:

  • “Trump’s proposal will generate at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment over the next decade. This investment in American infrastructure will raise wages and improve quality of life for the American people.
  • “Trump is putting forward a long-term solution that builds on strong partnerships between federal, state, tribal, and local authorities.
  • “Half of the new infrastructure funds would go towards incentivizing new state and local investments in infrastructure.
  • “Trump’s plan will empower state and local authorities to prioritize infrastructure projects based on their community’s needs.
  • “This plan will eliminate unnecessary redundancies and inefficiencies in the regulatory and permitting process that are holding back American infrastructure development.
  • “The president’s plan will address the infrastructure needs of rural America. A quarter of the federal funds will be dedicated to addressing rural infrastructure needs prioritized by state and local leaders. These funds will go towards rebuilding roads, providing clean water to rural families and businesses, expanding broadband access, and supplying affordable, reliable power.
  • “Trump’s proposal will encourage the development of new, transformative infrastructure projects.”

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