Here’s what’s wrong with Trump’s plan for U.S. infrastructure
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As Congress debates President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE’s insufficient infrastructure proposal and negotiates the fiscal year 2018 spending bill within the framework of the budget agreement signed into law last week, I urge my fellow legislators to join me in my role as ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee in seizing this opportunity to commit meaningful federal funding to rebuild and modernize the nation’s infrastructure.

Without substantial federal investment, Congress will jeopardize our nation’s economic competitiveness and the safety of the American people.


From our nation’s modes of transportation to our electric grid and waste management systems, America’s infrastructure is in desperate need of an overhaul. Take, for example, the U.S. rail system.

Fatal train crashes recently rocked the communities of Crozet, Va., and Cayce, S.C., killing three people and injuring over 100 passengers. These preventable accidents were the latest in an unsettling trend of crashes and derailments of passenger trains.

While federal investigators continue to investigate these incidents, Democrats and Republicans agree that one thing is clear: We cannot continue the status quo of neglecting our infrastructure.

That is why it was so disappointing that President Trump squandered the opportunity to call for a robust federal commitment to infrastructure in his long-delayed proposal, released on Monday.

The president’s plan would provide just $200 billion—a fraction of the federal investment experts agree is needed to bring the nation’s roads, bridges, rail, water systems, and electrical systems into a state of good repair. Shifting funding responsibilities to states and localities and hoping the private sector will fill the funding gaps left by the federal government is neither a serious nor responsible way to build what we need. If states could shoulder the massive costs of an infrastructure revamp, we would all already be driving on smooth highways and over structurally sound bridges.

Equally misguided, under the proposal, the greatest determining factor in awarding federal dollars to infrastructure projects would be the ability to secure significant outside funding. Just 5 percent of the formula for funding projects is based on “how the project will spur economic and social returns on investment.” This would all but guarantee that infrastructure projects of public necessity are put on the backburner to prioritize the needs of private investors.

The picture gets even worse when you consider the draconian cuts proposed in the president’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget request, also released on Monday. Amtrak operates on 21,300 miles of track owned by the rail service’s National Network of partners. In fact, the train crashes in Crozet and Cayce occurred on host railroad tracks owned and operated by other entities. Yet the president’s request slashes Amtrak rail subsidies in half, proposing to cut grants for Amtrak’s National Network of partners from $1.159 billion to $538 million in fiscal year 2019.

Gutting subsidies for the National Network is unacceptable, given the clear need to ensure that these private railroads meet Amtrak’s strict standards to provide for the safety of the traveling public.

That was the argument my colleagues and I made ahead of the budget proposal’s release in a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOn The Money: Deficit hits six-year high of 9 billion | Yellen says Trump attacks threaten Fed | Affordable housing set for spotlight in 2020 race Deficit hits six-year high of 9 billion: Treasury Trump attacks Democrat in Ohio governor's race MORE in which we urged full funding for the National Network, including funds to implement Positive Train Control and other life-saving technologies. The administration’s subsequent decision to cut rather than provide full funding for these critical safety measures is a troubling statement of its indifference to passenger rail safety. 

For months, President Trump promised the American people a plan that will rebuild our roads, bridges, and transit systems and improve them to be the greatest in the world. Unfortunately, President Trump's infrastructure plan and Fiscal Year 2019 budget request indicate a profound misunderstanding of what it will take to make our infrastructure great again.

America's infrastructure is crumbling, and the only way to fix it is to create a dedicated, permanent funding stream to repair, rebuild, and modernize the bones of our great nation. The president’s patchwork proposal is insufficient at best.

We need to shore up, not cut, federal investments in existing modes of transportation, including Amtrak, commuter rail, roads, bridges and tunnels. The president’s proposal to gut funding for the passenger railroad is dead on arrival, having already been rejected by Congress, and reveals an alarming ignorance about the federal investments needed to keep the traveling public safe and grow the U.S. economy. 

With strong bipartisan support for revamping America’s infrastructure, President Trump has a unique opportunity to work with Democrats and Republicans to secure not only a robust federal investment in our railroads, airports and highways but in our nation’s future.

Lowey is ranking member of the Appropriations Committee.