THE WEEK THAT WASN’T

The next time someone comes to your door holding a suspicious looking package, look carefully before you call the police. If he or she is wearing a blue vest, it may be a Walmart store employee delivering your on-line purchase on their way home from work. Walmart has just announced a pilot program in one Arkansas store and two stores in New Jersey to test the idea of having store employees deliver customers’ on-line purchases. This is yet another delivery angle being considered in the Amazon-inspired “instant gratification” retail environment. Details of the program are sketchy, and only time will tell if it is successful. But in the Walmart/Amazon battle for rapid delivery supremacy, no idea seems to be too outrageous.

On the national scene, last week was declared “Infrastructure Week” by the White House, designed to generate enthusiasm for the president’s infrastructure plan. To most observers however, it was not a rousing success. In fairness, almost all the happenings in the country was overshadowed by the Senate testimony by dethroned FBI director James Comey. Anything other than what he had to say, was relegated to second place in the news.

So what did happen during Infrastructure Week? On Monday, in a ceremony in the Rose Garden, President Trump kicked off the week with an summary of his $1 trillion plan to upgrade the country’s roads, bridges, inland waterways and other parts of the infrastructure. The plan calls for the federal government to invest $200 billion, with the remainder coming from the states and/or private investors. This idea of course, has not been well accepted by many who believed that the original commitment was for the government to provide the $1 trillion. The idea of private investors suggests more toll roads and other user charges on top of state taxes and fees. (Because of the government’s failure to act, half the states have already increased their fuel taxes.)

At the ceremony, the president also announced the first major initiative of the infrastructure program – the privatization of the air traffic control system. This was a campaign promise that had been well received by most of the airlines and some former FAA officials. They, and other advocates believe that provide ownership will provide the more stable funding necessary to keep the NextGen technology upgrade on track. NextGen will upgrade the system from a radar base to a satellite-based GPS to manage aircraft in flight. This program could have a very positive impact on air operations, economics, and safety. As to be expected, the plan has  critics that believe there is nothing wrong with the current system or that privatization is not the solution.

Later in the week, President Trump stood on the north bank of the Ohio River, with coal barges as a backdrop, and promised to create a “first class” system of waterways, roads, and bridges. Waterway advocates were pleased to see some interest but are concerned about the higher user costs that would be encountered.

Mayors, governors, and other state officials criticized the entire plan because it leaves them pretty much holding the cost bag.

I don’t believe anyone could have logically deduced that the federal government can come up with $1 trillion to finance the many necessary projects. Someone has to pay. The real problem is that this issue has been ignored by so many, for so long, fixing it is going to be painful. Taxpayers and users will pay the bill, however it is disguised.

 

Written By: Clifford F. Lynch