Five things you may have missed in Trump’s infrastructure plan


President Trump released his long-awaited infrastructure proposal earlier this week, calling for the use of public-private partnerships and funding from state and local governments to overhaul roads, ports and bridges.

The plan quickly ran into Democratic opposition, with critics arguing the plan does not provide enough federal funding to make a meaningful impact.

But the administration says the proposal’s $200 billion of federal seed money will generate $1.5 trillion by incentivizing local and private investment.

{mosads}Amid the debate, several aspects of Trump’s proposal flew under the radar.

Here are five things you may have missed.

It suggests selling off national airports and other federal assets.

Trump’s proposal calls for selling off federal assets the administration argues “would be better managed by state, local, or private entities.” Two properties mentioned for possible sale are Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.

“Federal ownership of these assets can result in sub-optimal investment decisions and create risk for taxpayers,” the plan says.

The two airports are currently leased by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which says it uses zero tax dollars to run them.

Virginia Democrats quickly criticized the recommendation to divest certain federal assets.

“Selling off property like the GW Parkway, Dulles Airport, and Reagan National will not improve our infrastructure — it will only mean higher costs for the traveling public,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), whose district includes the Reagan airport, called this component of the plan “particularly outrageous,” slamming the administration for not discussing the option with local lawmakers. 

Another federal asset listed for possible sale is the George Washington Parkway, which is operated by the National Park Service (NPS).

The infrastructure blueprint says a government agency would outline “appropriate” sale circumstances and how revenue from a potential divestiture could be spent.

It recommends lifting the ban on interstate tolling.

The plan says states should be provided the “flexibility” to collect tolls on the interstates to allow for additional local infrastructure investment.

States were prohibited from tolling on the interstates in 1956, when Congress crafted the Interstate Highway System. Exceptions were granted for tolls already in place, however.

Additional tolling is bound to face an uphill battle in Congress, as lawmakers are historically wary of broaching the subject. It’s also sure to run into opposition from industry groups.

“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,” Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates spokeswoman Stephanie Kane said in a statement this week. “This plan is not innovative or good policy — it is simply a nationwide plan for #TrumpTolls.” 

Meanwhile, lawmakers from rural regions worry that private entities will avoid investing in rural communities, where toll roads are less likely to be profitable.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao this week said the administration is not pushing for tolls, but said states should have the option to collect the fees should they choose to do so.

“We’re not advocating for them. We’re also not endorsing them,” Chao told reporters at Tuesday’s press briefing. “It is really up to the local entities that are involved in trying to raise the financing.” 

It would repurpose some transportation funds from other areas.

The Trump administration has acknowledged that some funding cuts in its proposed fiscal 2019 budget would be repurposed for the federal infrastructure investment, a $200 billion ask included in its spending plan.

“There are some reductions in things like transit funding and [Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery] TIGER grants and things where the administration thinks that infrastructure funds haven’t been spent efficaciously,” a senior administration official told reporters on Saturday.

The 2019 budget blueprint, also released on Monday, would abolish funding for the TIGER grant program, which originated in the 2009 stimulus package and allocates funds to state and local governments for surface transportation projects.

The budget proposal also slashes funding for Amtrak grants in half and calls on states to pitch in operation costs for long-distance Amtrak service. And it phases out the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Capital Investment program, providing funding only for deals that have already been secured with state and local governments.

It seeks to increase the speed of environmental reviews.

Trump vowed to streamline permitting in his infrastructure proposal, which seeks to reduce the process down to two years.

His proposal argues the environmental review process breeds “inefficiencies” that are “duplicative.” 

The administration is pushing for what it calls a “one agency one decision” method to process reviews so the agency with relevant “expertise” can take charge over a given project’s permitting.

The idea is already facing pushback from environmental groups concerned that these efforts will inhibit environmental protections.

“This is not a serious proposal to make the investments America’s infrastructure needs — this is a scam designed to gut clean air, water, and wildlife protections, transform public highways and bridges into privately owned toll roads, and sell off America’s public lands,” Michael Brune, the executive director of Sierra Club, said this week.

The White House official over the weekend rejected the notion that the administration is trying to obstruct environmental statues.

“We are not touching any of the fundamental requirements of any of the core infrastructure acts,” the official said, referencing environmental laws.

“We’re not saying you can have a bigger impact on endangered species, or the water can be dirty, or the air can be dirty, or anything like that. So the core acts stay the same. We’re talking about the process that’s used to do the analysis around the environmental impact.” 

It doesn’t propose a fix for the struggling Highway Trust Fund.

The administration’s framework does not include a fix to address the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund, which receives revenue from the federal gas tax to pay for road projects. But that levy has not been raised since 1993, eroding the fund’s purchasing power over time.

Chao in a conference call with reporters earlier this week said the fund must be tackled in some capacity, noting it faces a shortfall at the end of 2020.

“That will have to be addressed either in the infrastructure proposal or if not in the infrastructure proposal, in reauthorization of some sort,” Chao said. “So I think we all recognize how important this issue is and we need to address it in the infrastructure proposal.”

Business groups and unions have pushed for raising the gas tax to boost the trust fund, but the idea faces strong opposition among Republicans.

Tags Amtrak Donald Trump Donald Trump Elaine Chao Infrastructure Interstate Highway System Mark Warner Toll road Trump infrastructure plan Virginia

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