What We Value for Any Infrastructure Package

On January 30, President Trump delivered his state of the union. A few sentences in his speech referenced the long-delayed infrastructure package, as he called on Congress to pass a bill that would pair any Federal dollars with state, local, and private investments to “build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways.”

To accompany the speech, the White House released a short summary of the need for infrastructure improvements and a few highlights from their forthcoming plan. The summary includes confirmation of details that had been revealed in a leaked draft in January, including that 25 percent of the package’s funds will go to rural infrastructure needs and that half will go towards incentivizing state and local investments in infrastructure.  The summary claims that limited federal funds (rumored to be $200 billion over 10 years) will “generate” $1.5 trillion in investments in infrastructure from the private sector and state and local funds. A longer proposal is supposed to be released in the coming weeks.

We are withholding judgement until we see the full details.  We will be carefully examining any infrastructure proposal to see if it meets our values and goals for federal spending on transportation:

  • Any infrastructure package should support repairing current infrastructure, including implementing Complete Streets components and repairing transit, instead of simply building a lot of new highways.
  • Funds should be allocated through a transparent decision-making process with clear goals and performance measures, focusing on increasing mobility for people, not just cars and freight. 
  • Infrastructure investments must address inequities in transportation access in both rural and urban areas—which cannot be done through a system that simply prioritizes projects that generate the most private investment.
  • It should be an actual federal investment to jumpstart projects that matter, not just a small federal contribution to privately funded projects that would have been built anyways.  The new federal funds cannot come from cutting existing transit, biking and walking, and passenger rail dollars or other key domestic spending, nor should it undermine the current federal transportation laws, which are already on shaky financial turf with the federal gas tax no longer sufficient to sustain funding.

There is an opportunity to steer any new federal infrastructure dollars to helping communities adapt to the modern transportation world by improving transit, walking, and biking for everyone; we will see if the proposed infrastructure package will capitalize on that opportunity.

On the federal spending front, Congress continues to wrestle with a final agreement on FY2018 spending levels (even though we are now four months into FY2018) and an overall deal for the total amount to allocate to domestic and military spending (called spending caps) over the next two years.  The current spending resolution ends on February 8; it is likely another extension will be needed as the negotiators are still far apart.  A new rumor is circulating that a few Republicans have proposed building into any spending agreement funding for an infrastructure deal, though the lack of certainty on what an infrastructure package might look like is hindering agreement on that.