Friday, April 07, 2017

Will He Build It?

In this case, not the wall but all the myriad infrastructure repair and replacement projects that the Republicans in Congress have left unfunded in their rush to anarchy. The mouth that roared made many promises many times about the yuge, beautiful infrastructure he was going to build. For some strange reason when his budget arrived in Congress it had lots of cuts and none of the increases needed to bring America back from Third World status.
A leaked list of the Trump administration’s priority projects seemed to speak to the scope of the president’s ambitions: a high-speed rail line linking Houston and Dallas; a desalination plant in Orange County, Calif.; and improvements to the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in Louisiana, the longest continuous bridge over water in the world.

Then came Mr. Trump’s budget proposal, which would slash the Department of Transportation’s spending by 13 percent, end subsidies for Amtrak’s long-distance trains and eliminate the Obama administration’s “Tiger” grant program, which has helped fund mass transit systems across the country.

Among the potential victims of the president’s proposed cutbacks: Maryland’s long-awaited Purple Line, a planned 16-mile light rail system through the capital’s suburbs.

Maryland had been just four days away from clinching some $900 million in federal aid in August when a federal judge ruled to temporarily invalidate environmental approvals for the project. But under President Trump’s plan, projects that don’t yet have complete federal funding agreements would be financed “by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.”

Supporters of the project are devastated.

“It was on the one-yard line,” said Art Guzzetti, vice president for policy at the American Public Transportation Association, a Washington-based advocacy group. The proposed budget cuts were inconsistent with the administration’s overall focus on infrastructure investment, he said.

“We’d been so encouraged by all the talk of investing in infrastructure,” Mr. Guzzetti said. “But the budget has been discouraging.”

Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary, has sought to quell concerns. Mr. Trump remains committed to his infrastructure initiative, which he intended to announce later this year, she said last week at an event marking the Transportation Department’s 50th anniversary.

“The president has consistently emphasized that one of his top priorities is modernizing our country’s outdated infrastructure,” she said. “The proposal will cover more than transportation infrastructure. It will include energy, water and potentially broadband and veterans hospitals, as well.”

But Ms. Chao, who was labor secretary under President George W. Bush, also sounded the alarm over “saddling future generations with massive debt.” Instead of depleting government coffers, she said, Mr. Trump hoped to “unleash the potential for private investment” through partnerships with the private sector. She has also suggested that funds for infrastructure improvements might come from more tolls on the country’s roads.

“Investors say there is ample capital available, waiting to invest in infrastructure projects,” she said. “So the problem is not money.”
At this point the likely holdup is defining the mechanism needed to make public works projects into private profit centers. Hopefully they will come up with something before that bridge you are worried about collapses underneath you.


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