Trump’s Infrastructure Weak

This past week was President Trump’s “Infrastructure Week.” A week dedicated, according to the White House’s official blog, “to addressing America’s crumbling infrastructure” and to try to build support for the President’s campaign promise to invest “at least” $1 trillion on improving the nation’s infrastructure.

For the construction industry it was going to be an exciting week. Not only because it could mean new opportunities for the industry but from a policy perspective our nation’s infrastructure, which recently received a grade of D+ from the American Society of Engineers, is in dire need of investment.

But Infrastructure Week ended up being more like Infrastructure Weak. No infrastructure bills were signed or introduced, no executive orders were issued, and no new departments or commissions were created, although at the end of the week President Trump promised to form a “council” and “office” to review the environmental permitting process.

To kick off the week, President Trump signed a one page letter to Congress with a statement of “principles” asking Congress to look into privatizing the nation’s air traffic control system. Although signed with the fanfare usually reserved for the signing of a legislative bill or executive order, the President’s letter of “principles” simply states that he would like to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system. But of importance to the construction industry, it has nothing to do with construction.

And that, was pretty much it.

President Trump traveled to Cincinnati on Wednesday to pitch his infrastructure proposal which has yet to be released, on Thursday hosted an infrastructure summit with governors and mayors during which Vice President Pence declared it a “banner week for infrastructure,” and to cap off the week gave a speech at the U.S. Department of Transportation where he dropped three binders of environmental reports on the ground for effect and commented that project permitting is one of the “biggest obstacles to creating this new and desperately needed infrastructure.”

The most substantive plans coming out of Infrastructure Week came at the end of the week when President Trump’s promise during his speech at DOT to create a council “to help project managers navigate the bureaucratic maze” (although it is unclear how the council’s work would differ from that of the already existing Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council), that the new council would be implementing a “new online dashboard allowing everyone to easily track major projects through every stage of the approval process,” and that a new office would be created within the White House’s Council of Environmental Quality “to root out inefficiency, clarify lines of authority and streamline federal and state local procedures so that communities can modernize their aging infrastructure without fear of outdated federal rules getting in their way.”

So, for now, it’s wait and see for the construction industry, which has received mixed messages thus far from the Administration. President Trump submitted his proposed budget to Congress this past month. The President’s proposed budget calls for only $200 billion in infrastructure spending over 10 years (far short of his “at least” $1 trillion infrastructure pledge, although his administration says it will stimulate $1 trillion in investment from the private sector) while cutting $255 billion from existing infrastructure programs including grants for highway restoration, Native American water facilities and rural airports.

 

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