Skift Take

A plan to invest in U.S. infrastructure was supposed to be a slam dunk for the Trump administration. Yet even with an experienced political operator such as the Secretary of Transportation, it's now unclear whether any robust plan will ever come to fruition.

More than six months into his administration, President Donald J. Trump’s highly-touted plan for a $1 trillion infrastructure investment has yet to materialize.

During an “Infrastructure Week” event last week, the President signed an executive order with Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao present aimed at removing regulations governing new infrastructure projects. In particular, the order calls for a less-stringent permit process and fewer environmental regulations.

This deregulation would allow projects to start more quickly, instead of being tied up in years of red tape out of environmental and other concerns. Federal agencies would now be judged on how effectively they facilitate new projects and track costs, as well.

What the executive order does not do, however, is provide more guidance on the administration’s plan for new investment. President Trump’s budget called for $200 billion in infrastructure investment from the federal government, a far cry from the initial $1 trillion he touted on the campaign trail. The President’s budget essentially serves as a guide for Congress so that amount could be slashed significantly.

The executive order and documents that the White House released show that any infrastructure plan would rely heavily on funding outside of the federal government. This follows from talk earlier this year that public-private partnerships and tax breaks would be used to encourage new projects.

“Government will get out of the way to allow state and local governments to succeed at meeting their unique challenges,” states a fact sheet released by The White House last week. “Only 1/5 of infrastructure spending comes from the federal government, the vast majority comes from states, localities, and the private sector.”

In other words, the remaining $800 billion promised for infrastructure would have to come from unknown sources. Punting on wider infrastructure-reform legislation altogether may also be a political necessity due to the polarized state of the U.S. Congress.

The Trump administration faces other headwinds on infrastructure issues.

Last month, the President signed an executive order paving the way for an advisory council on infrastructure, which would provide advice on how the administration should proceed. But as Bloomberg reports, President Trump has now scrapped the plan after many industry leaders stepped down from the other councils he formed.

In June, President Trump also signed an executive order setting the table for airport improvements across the country, but similar to the order last week, it provides few tangible details on the administration’s plans to fix the problems that plague the U.S. air travel system.

A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives to push forward air travel reform, which would involve privatizing air-traffic control systems, but it has been referred to committee and hasn’t been put up for debate yet.

In sum, it looks like it could be a long time before any sort of widespread initiative to improve highways, roads, and airports actually takes place in the U.S.

The press conference announcing the infrastructure executive order featured no questions on infrastructure from reporters, who focused instead on the President’s inflammatory statements on protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. Like health care and tax reform, the President’s infrastructure plans have been sidetracked by the disarray of his tenure to date.


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Tags: airlines, infrastructure, roads, trains, trump

Photo credit: Infrastructure improvement may not happen any time soon. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao is pictured here. The White House / Flickr

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