THE LONG AND CRUMBLING ROAD

When Donald Trump was running for president, one of the major concerns he identified was the horrible condition of the nation’s infrastructure. If elected, he said, he would deal with the problem swiftly and effectively. The condition of our roads and bridges was not a new subject. For several decades, there has been discussion of the country’s deteriorating infrastructure. There have been hundreds of articles (including several by me), discussions, and legislative actions, yet we seem to be no closer to a solution than we were fifteen years ago.

Prior to the president’s first State of the Union address to Congress, we were looking forward to learning about his plans for improving the infrastructure. Unfortunately, he simply restated what he had said before, “I will be asking Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States – financed through public and private capital – creating millions of new jobs. Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our beautiful land.” He devoted only 139 words out of a 5006-word address to this critical issue. As President Obama did before him, he was suggesting funding through public/private partnerships (referred to as P3s) That of course, translates to “tolling our interstates” which is illegal under the legislation that authorized the system in 1956. Concurrently with all this,   Congress has refused to raise the fuel tax, which has not changed in 24 years. Most industry organizations and experts such as the American Trucking Associations and U.S. Chamber of Commerce have advocated an increase, but Congressional leaders apparently would rather have a root canal than raise fuel taxes. This is in spite of the fact that recent surveys have shown that 79 percent of adult Americans approve of infrastructure spending.

For two years we have been waiting for something to happen, and excited rumors prior to the recent 2019 State of the Union address suggested that this time, a plan would be presented. What was presented was far from a plan. President Trump stated, “Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure. I know that Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill – and I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting-edge industries of the future.

This is not an option.

This is a necessity.”

This bland 69 words (out of 5540) was even less definitive than the 2018 verbiage.

In the meantime, states continue to increase their fuel taxes to pay for their own projects – 27 at last count. In short, the entire problem has gotten out of control. Many of our needs will not be attractive to investors, and there still is no sign of an overall plan for the necessary improvements. Where we might get private investment in roads and bridges, the financial returns for the investors will be passed on to the users. We could easily find ourselves paying tolls and user fees, plus increased state taxes, leaving us in a worse position than we would have been if Congress had taken the action that they should.

And, far as the “new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our beautiful land” good luck on that one.

Written By: Clifford F. Lynch