Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Is Just Another Con

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

After more than a year of teasing a “trillion-dollar” infrastructure package, the Trump administration released the contours of a plan today. As expected, the White House outline does nothing to reform a half-century of highway-centric federal policy that has left America choking on traffic, with a transportation system that’s far deadlier than peer nations around the world.

The Trump proposal doesn’t even include new funding. It calls for $200 billion in federal spending on infrastructure over ten years, but that would come from cuts to other programs, according to a White House official cited by Time.

The administration plans to siphon resources from federal transit programs, which Trump singled out for cuts in his 2019 budget proposal, also released today. The budget calls for axing $3.7 billion for New Starts, the major source of federal funding for transit expansion projects.

All told, the Trump budget proposal would “cut more than $168 billion of Federal highway, transit, Amtrak, and water infrastructure funding over the next 10 years,” according to Representative Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat and the ranking member of the House infrastructure committee.

While hacking away at transit and rail programs, the White House envisions controlling much more transportation funding itself, through a new discretionary grant program. Billions of dollars would be at the disposal of an administration that has already proven itself hostile to urban transit.

The infrastructure plan also includes an assortment of project “streamlining” measures intended to get highways built faster.

The White House, meanwhile, is trying to sell its plan as a legitimate infusion of resources — and a lot of the headlines today obediently parrot a talking point that the proposal will generate $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending, mainly by inducing investments from state and local governments and the private sector.

City transportation agencies want no part of it though. In a statement, National Association of City Transportation Officials Executive Director Linda Bailey called the funding measures in the Trump plan “smoke and mirrors,” criticizing the criteria for the White House grant program as “plucked from thin air.”

Infrastructure is an area where Trump and Democrats would supposedly work together to pass legislation, but the White House proposal isn’t winning over the opposition. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a consistent booster of federal infrastructure spending, said the Trump outline “falls short.”

House Democrats seem to be even more opposed, though they have less influence than Schumer’s caucus. “This is not a real infrastructure plan—it is simply another scam, an attempt to sell our nation’s infrastructure and create windfall profit for Wall Street while rolling back environmental protections,” DeFazio said.

  • TakeFive

    Total waste of his own breath and everyone’s time…

    …which is really a shame. Trump’s affection for infrastructure investments was one of the few things I had agreed with. While his original intentions might have been good this is nothing but more political pandering to his imagined voter base.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Pretty much.

    Cut the federal stuff to zero, other than Amtrak and Air Traffic control, and let states toll the highways.

    Infrastructure is a category where different places have different needs. And a way for the some parts of the country to abuse others. They managed to kill off most central cities. Now they want to get rid of what is left.

  • Southeasterner

    With the dollar in a free fall combined with an infrastructure plan that prioritizes private investments I wonder how his “Make America Great” again supporters feel about him selling off America to the highest foreign bidders? I actually like the idea of folks in Alabama, Georgia, and Texas driving on roads and paying tolls on facilities owned by firms and pensioners in Spain, Italy and Australia. Imagine the look on a Good Ol Boy’s face when he finds out he is paying $8 tolls so someone in Italy can retire at the age of 55 with full health care benefits.

    Go Trump!

  • TakeFive

    LOL, this plan is no more than the making of a political statement and it’s been forever the practice for the President to ‘propose’ and the privilege of Congress to ‘dispose.’ This thing is DOA.

  • newtonmarunner

    I do like the Littlefield plan of ending federal funding for roads and transit. Give the subsidy through the state and local tax deduction (which disproportionately benefits high tax states where transit potential is the highest — NY, NJ, CA, IL, MA, MD, WA, etc.). Seems like a compromise.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Those living elsewhere already own half of all U.S. Treasury bonds. Along with NYC’s natural gas distribution system.

    I’m old enough to remember “we owe it all to ourselves.”

  • Larry Littlefield

    The gas tax could go to help pay the high cost of health care for all the veterans injured in the Middle East since the Carter Doctrine held that access to the oil there was a vital U.S. interest.

    https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2018/01/28/imported-oil-it-seems-the-donald-is-yet-another-gutless-president/

  • The proposed cuts to Amtrak would eliminate overnight trains which would immediately harm small cities that voted for Trump. However, due to shared facilities, that would raise costs for regional and commuter trains that tend to run in purple and blue areas. Regional trains were originally paid for on a 50% basis by the states, then 65% and now 100%. So the shared facility costs would all be handed over to the states.

    And, cities that have talked about commuter rail would discover that they would have to start from scratch. The majority of commuter and regional rail projects started in the U.S. since 1971 rely in part on facilities that would have been gone had the long-distance network been eliminated. Starting over would either result in higher costs or more disruption to create new stations, sidings, etc.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6840298225c362214e543d4280e90abc08befeb37ffebd0a2135488a2877543e.jpg

    The attached photo shows what happened in Nampa, Idaho after the 1997 Clinton Amtrak cutbacks. The Union Pacific later quoted multi-million dollar figures for replacing the passenger facilities along that line. The Boise metro area is growing rapidly, but will not have the opportunity to gradually develop a commuter line. Instead it will have to start over at locations like Nampa. (Being super-patriots, the train station’s flagpole was saved. The Stars and Stripes flies proudly over the rubble. This is the fate planned for over 220 communities.)

  • Seems like you’re familiar with Boise so maybe you’re familiar with the Wasatch Front, too. For whatever reason, UTA officials chose not to use perfectly good existing buildings like Ogden’s Union Station when setting up FrontRunner service, opting instead for sterile, Soviet-style platforms that suck the life out of commuters. I don’t think this type of decision has much to do with Amtrak cuts but rather a predisposition on the part of bureaucrats for new, soulless architecture. It’s kind of funny to go down there and see this beautiful station and then have to walk 100 yards north to the hellish, wind swept platform.

  • Claude

    Cuts to Amtrak’s long distance trains would harm more than small cities.
    Amtrak’s overhead is pooled together, including payments on bonds to rebuild the NEC. Then the total pool is divided among the routes based on the length of the , Lake Shore Limited and route. The Texas Eagle is paying 4.5 times what the Acela is paying for bridge repairs in Virginia. so cutting the long distance trains would totally eliminate the revenues while cutting very little from the expense budget.In 1979 Amtrak cut the 5 biggest “money losing” routes on the system and increased losses by $150 million.
    In 2012 Amtrak accidentally revealed their formula for calculating the share of total overhead per route, which can be used to calculate the actual financial condition of individual routes. As of 2014, the Auto Train, Palmetto, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Lake Shore Limited and Empire Builder were all making profits over the cost of operating the routes. Evidence is that the other trains were also making a profit on train operations and could be profitable routes by increasing train frequencies to twice daily, at least in the more populated sections.
    Eliminating the long distance routes would increase losses to unsustainable levels and could kill Amtrak, which I suspect is the intent.

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