Setting aside the bombast and the self-congratulatory dicta, America expects great things from Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHarris stumps for McAuliffe in Virginia On The Money — Sussing out what Sinema wants Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — The Facebook Oversight Board is not pleased MORE. Many of those who voted for him — as opposed to voting against his opponent — did so largely because of his reputation as a successful developer and builder.
As a private citizen most of his projects, whether it be the revitalization of the now omnipresent Mar-A-Lago resort in Palm Beach or Manhattan’s eponymous Trump Tower, are renowned for their opulence. Some would even suggest they’re a tad overdone, but that’s a matter of taste.
As president, Trump has the opportunity to continue to practice his craft. He said repeatedly during the campaign the nation’s infrastructure is a disgrace. The roads and highways are full of potholes. There are bridges literally rusting away. Our airports are third class, the electric grid needs to be hardened and modernized, and our water systems are suffering from years of neglect. He wants to build — and there are plenty in Congress who are willing to give him just about anything he asks for because a national infrastructure plan would lead to those three magic words: jobs, jobs, and jobs.
In crafting a plan, Gary Cohn of the National Economic Council — a rising power within the White House — and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao would do well to consult a recent report compiled by the Associated Press documenting the coming disaster that is the nation’s commercial rail system. It’s is as integral to the country’s economic health as just about any other part of the transportation system yet it’s been neglected for far too long.
Officials have found tens of thousands of safety defects in the transportation lines used to carry vital crude oil to refineries throughout America. Rails are worn out. Bolts are missing. Steel bars are cracked. Since 2006 there have been at least 27 accidents involving trains carrying crude that have resulted a number of accidents including derailments and loss of life.
The problem may even be wider ranging and more significant as the ones experienced by other parts of America’s crumbling infrastructure. Moreover the inclusion of commercial rail construction and repair fits in nicely with the president’s trade agenda. As he said Thursday:
“Maintaining the production of American steel is extremely important to our national security and our defense industrial base. Steel is critical to both our economy and our military. This is not an area where we can afford to become dependent on foreign countries.”
Just as American rail can help the United States become energy independent, the rebuilding of vital routes that have fallen into disrepair will help make us infrastructure independent as well. The freight rail sector contributes $274 billion in economic output and supports, directly or indirectly, just around 1.5 million American jobs. The president’s infrastructure plan should, when it is final released, focus on those kinds of projects that are the legitimate responsibility of the federal government. Some may disagree but that includes commercial rail just as much as it includes the power grid, the nation’s ports, tour highways and byways, bridges, tunnels, and the networks that make so much happen in cyberspace and have the potential to do even more.
In not every case is it the government’s responsibility to build every inch, dot every “I,” and cross every “T” but it is incumbent on policymakers to make certain these systems secure. It would be relatively easy, for example, for a hostile power to cripple the American economy by bringing down just one of them The Trump plan needs to keep them safe as well as economic productive and prosperous.
Peter Roff is a former senior writer for United Press International and a commentator on the One America News network. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.