Trump Administration Outlines Infrastructure Plan

February 14, 2018

On Feb. 12, President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited infrastructure proposal to spend $200 billion to rebuild the nation’s roads, bridges, highways, railways, waterways and other infrastructure and to expedite environmental reviews, while also putting states and localities on notice that they will have to shoulder more of the cost burden going forward. The $200 billion in direct federal spending would come from cuts to other programs within the U.S. Department of Transportation and elsewhere, whereas the remainder of the total $1.5 trillion is expected to be financed by states, localities and public-private partnerships.

The Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America is divided into four parts: Funding and financing infrastructure improvements, additional provisions for infrastructure improvements, infrastructure permitting improvement and workforce development.

The first part discusses the establishment of an Infrastructure Incentives Program to attract new non-federal revenue for infrastructure improvements. States and localities would receive investments in the form of grants; $100 billion in funding for the program would be divided into specific amounts for the Department of Transportation, United States Army Corps of Engineers, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Each agency would solicit applications for the available funds every six months. Those applications would be evaluated and scored by a weighted system.

The plan calls for the creation of a Rural Infrastructure Program, which aims to incentive states to address rural infrastructure needs. Projects would include transportation, high-speed data transmission, water and waste/ power transmission, and flood control. For the rural plan, $50 billion in funding would be made available, with 80 percent of the funds provided to each state’s governor, who with the assistance of federal and state agency directors, choose how the money would be used, specifically in areas with populations of less than 50,000.

Other details under funding and financing pertain to the Transformative Projects Program, which will provide $20 billion in federal funding and technical assistance to transform the way infrastructure is delivered or operated, with heavy emphasis on new technologies. The Department of the Interior would create the Interior Maintenance Fund under which half of the money generated from energy sources taken from public lands and waters would be used to maintain systems in national parks and wildlife refuges.

Part two addresses transportation, water infrastructure, veteran’s affairs and land revitalization (brownfield/superfund reform). States would be given the right to toll interstate highways and reinvest those funds for surface transportation projects. States would also have the flexibility to commercialize interstate rest areas to generate new revenue. The plan calls for raising the cost threshold for major projects to $1 billion from the current $500 million minimum. Other provisions in this part include authorizing federal land management’s agencies to use contracting methods available to states, eliminate constraints on use of public-private and public-public partnerships in transit, apply FAST Act streamlining provisions to rail projects and shorten the statute of limitations and reduce barriers to alternative project delivery for airports.

For the third part of the proposal, the plan calls for establishing a “One Agency, One Decision” Environmental Review Structure which would eliminate duplicate or redundant reviewing processes. Essentially, it would put more decision making in the hands of each state and enhance coordination between state and federal reviews, and authorize pilot programs that allow agencies to experiment with new approaches to environmental reviews and enhance environmental protections.

The final part addresses workforce development with the aim of establishing policies that will help with the skilled labor shortage giving Americans secure, stable and well-paying jobs. The proposals include expanding Pell Grant eligibility to high-quality, short-term programs; reforming career and technical education, including reforming the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education program; and strengthening ties to the workforce for college students through the Federal Work Study program. The proposal also outlines empowering workers by reforming licensing requirements for those who seek employment on an infrastructure project.

The infrastructure plan put forward by the Trump Administration is meant as a guidance and outline for Congress. It remain unclear when the Republican-led chambers will introduce and move forward on their own infrastructure legislation this year. However, a bipartisan, bicameral measure may be possible since lawmakers from both parties agree that modernizing our transportation, infrastructure and communication networks are something the U.S. desperately needs in order to create more jobs, boost our economy and maintain our global competitiveness.