Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

Political Infighting May Doom Infrastructure Bill

October 8, 2019

Political fighting over the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump is likely to doom any chances for an infrastructure bill in the next year and may hinder passage of federal transportation funding for fiscal year 2020.

Some congressional leaders say that an infrastructure bill is unlikely to win approval let alone get much attention from Congress until after the 2020 presidential election.

However some believe Congress is still likely to act on a surface transportation authorization next year.

That includes Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell who said last week that the reauthorization would move through the Senate next year and perhaps later this year.

“It probably won’t be as bold as the president was talking about because it would inevitably, if it were that bold, involve a whopping gasoline tax increase, which is very regressive, hits medium and low income people very hard,” McConnell said. “But we will do a transportation bill. It will be more along the size of a traditional every four or five year transportation bill.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters there is still hope for an infrastructure bill, saying the impeachment inquiry need not stall bipartisan work on an infrastructure package.

The current surface transportation authorization expires on Sept. 30, 2020, which means that without a new authorization the federal government will no longer be able to collect the gasoline tax.

That would end funding of highways and mass transit until the tax is reauthorized.

One congressional observer said the impeachment inquiry is not necessarily the major stumbling block to a transportation bill.

Marcia Hale, president of the bipartisan Building America’s Future said a more formidable barrier is the issue of raising the gasoline tax.

“The more plausible thing to expect is that there will be a series of extensions like we’ve been through before,” she said. “But, I don’t think it’s impossible to get this done.”

As for transportation funding, the impeachment fight some believe might limit the ability of the Senate to give final approval to a series of spending bills, including the transportation funding bill that has cleared a Senate committee.

That bill includes an increase in Amtrak funding as well as policy riders pertaining to the Hudson River rail tunnel Gateway project and other issues related to intercity passenger rail.

Some think that the FY2020 spending will be addressed through a series of continuing resolutions such as the one now in effect through Nov. 21.

There is even the prospect of a one-year continuing resolution.

The Rail Passengers Association said the latter would provide slightly lower levels for Amtrak but slightly higher levels for rail passenger transportation grants.

High-Speed Rail Decision Draws Mixed Reviews

February 16, 2019

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to scale back his state’s high-speed rail project triggered no shortage of views, including a tweet from President Trump calling on the state to return $3.5 billion it received for the project.

Newsom rejected that, saying the project may be smaller but is still being built.

The governor has proposed that the high-speed line be completed in California’s Central Valley. Trump called the program a “green disaster.”

Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said Trump’s efforts to claw the money back won’t be easy so long as California meets all of the required guidelines of the grant.

LaHood was head of the U.S. Department of Transportation when the grant was awarded and believes that California has California correctly used the funds.

He called Newsom’s decision “short-sighted.

However, the American Public Transportation Association supported Newsom’s decision, saying it would still result in the creation of thousands of jobs and produce dramatic improvements in mobility through clean, efficient public transportation.

Jim Mathews, president of the Rail Passengers Association, had a pragmatic take, saying Newsom’s decision recognized that many in California had lost faith in the ability of the project’s managers to complete it.

In a statement, Mathews said that even a shortened high-speed rail service would go a long way toward restoring public trust, but said the line must eventually connect to urban areas in the north and south of the state.

The Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada also offered support for Newsom’s decision, but called for “improved rail service and transportation capacity to California travelers, especially those residing in the San Joaquin Valley.”

Cuomo, Trump Meet to Discuss Gateway Project

November 29, 2018

The proposed Gateway Project in New York City may be getting a makeover following a meeting on Wednesday between New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Donald Trump.

Cuomo met with Trump to seek federal funding for construction of new tunnels under the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey that are used by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit.

In a news conference following the meeting, Cuomo said Trump appears amendable to separating the tunnel component of Gateway from other proposed infrastructure improvements to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

The Trump administration has been loath to commit to providing a significant level of federal funding for the $30 billion Gateway project, calling it primarily a local project.

New York and New Jersey officials have in turn pointed to a commitment by the federal government to fund half of Gateway made by the Obama administration.

But the Trump administration has claimed there was no such agreement. It also has rejected an application from New York and New Jersey for a federal loan to pay for Gateway.

Some observers believe that Trump is using funding for Gateway as a bargaining chip to get other things from Congress, including funding for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Cuomo said the stalemate can be broken by “breaking the tunnel away from Gateway,” removing Amtrak’s representative from overseeing the Gateway Project Development Corporation, replacing Amtrak’s rep with a federal representative and immediately putting the project out to bid.

The latter would occur without completing an environmental impact study or having federal funding in place.

Amtrak has estimated that the cost of building the tunnel at $13 billion.

“I’m not signing the check on an Amtrak estimate. And the president’s not signing a check based on an Amtrak estimate. So we need real bids,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo described his meeting with Trump as positive and all good.

The New York Democrat has been a frequent Amtrak critic, particularly in 2017 when the passenger carrier launched a series of emergency repairs at New York’s Penn Station.

The Gateway Project dates to 2011 and calls for a new Portal Bridge and replacement of track in New Jersey.

Cuomo said building new tunnels should have a higher priority that those projects, saying the tunnels sustained severe damage from super storm Sandy in 2012.

“I’m focused on the tunnels, number one from a safety point of view, number two, if we lose one of those tunnels, lose use of the tunnel, it will have a devastating impact,” he said, noting that the failure of the current link would cut off New York and Boston from points south, and impact a fifth of the nation’s gross domestic product. “You’re talking about economic catastrophic circumstances if these tunnels fail.”

Trump Offers Broad Glimpse of Instrastructure Plan

February 1, 2018

As expected President Donald Trump in his state of the union speech before Congress this week called for legislation to modernize the nation’s infrastructure.

Trump did not give any details about the proposal. Administration sources have said that those will come sometime after the speech.

“We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways across our land,” Trump said.

During his address, Trump called for a bill that will result in “at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need.”

He acknowledged as has been reported by multiple sources that his plan will call for using federal funding to match money put up by state and local governments, as well as the private sector.

Some reports citing a leaked document said the federal match will be no more than 20 percent per project.

Trump described this as a way “to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit.”

He also said the bill also should shorten time needed to issue permits and grant approvals for projects to no more than two years.

GOP at Odds Over Infrastructure Plan

January 9, 2018

Republicans appear to be at odds over a much talked about but yet to be revealed infrastructure revitalization plan from the Trump administration.

Administration officials said that during a parley between President Trump and congressional GOP leaders at Camp David last weekend that Trump told the legislators that he does not believe that public-private partnerships work for all infrastructure projects.

Yet some members of the administration argued during the meetings for public-private partnerships.

The Washington Post reported that National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn gave a presentation focused solely on public-private partnerships.

He reportedly said that a proposal by entrepreneur Elon Musk to create an underground high-speed transportation corridor between New York and Washington “won’t cost the taxpayers anything” because the private sector will build it.

Cohn has at times called for raising the Federal gasoline tax to fund infrastructure, but it is not clear if he discussed this at Camp David.

In the meantime, some legislators are pushing their own proposals.

Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, proposed diverting some $2 billion in foreign aid that Trump is withholding from Pakistan, to use in “building bridges and railroads” in the United States.

Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican who is chair of the House Appropriations Committee, has stood up for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor Gateway Project.

He said “it will be the committee’s responsibility to see that such national priorities are met.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently asserted that a 50-50 agreement between the federal government and states of New Jersey and New York to split funding a rail tunnel project into New York City does not exist.

DOT described the proposed $29 billion project as “a project of 90 percent local significance.”

Trump Meets to Talk Infrastructure Plan

December 13, 2017

News reports said that President Donald Trump met this week with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster to discuss the administration’s infrastructure proposal.

The administration has proposed using $200 billion in federal funds to leverage $1 trillion worth of infrastructure improvements.

Trump had indicated last month that once a tax bill had passed Congress that his administration would be ready to focus on the infrastructure plan.

Trump Might Back 7-cent Gas Tax Hike

October 30, 2017

The Trump administration might seek an increase in the federal gasoline tax as a way of paying for a proposed $1 trillion infrastructure program.

That point was made by Trump’s economic adviser Gary Cohn during a meeting with House lawmakers last week.

The proposed 7-cent increase would be used to fund public work projects, such as railways, roads, waterways and bridges.

Trump had said earlier this year during an interview with Bloomberg News that he was open to a gas tax increase. The last gasoline tax increase came in 1993.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania), the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has said there is little interest in a gas tax hike now, but committee members might support one if the White House gets involved and supports the increase.

Although the Trump infrastructure plan has received widespread attention, the administration has yet to reveal any hard details about it.

Infrastructure Advisory Council Terminated

August 20, 2017

The Trump Administration has dropped its plans to create an Advisory Council on Infrastructure.

The council was proposed to help provide guidance on how spending for a multi-billion dollar program to improve roads, bridges and other public works.

Membership of the council would have included 15 members from the real estate, finance, labor and other sectors.

Termination of the infrastructure council followed the disbanding of two other advisory groups to guide U.S. manufacturing and policies.

In the meantime,  President Donald Trump has released a plan that is designed to alleviate the length of time it takes to get federal approval for projects.

Trump issued an executive order on Tuesday that will”

  • Establish “one Federal decision” for major infrastructure projects to proceed
  • Set a two-year goal for completing reviews
  • Set up a “quarterly scorecard” to hold agencies accountable for delays
  • Reduce duplicative requests for information and late-stage changes in the approval process.

Trump Infrastructure Plan Included in Budget

May 25, 2017

It turns out that the Trump administration’s much-ballyhooed transportation infrastructure plan was tucked away inside the fiscal year 2018 budget announced on Tuesday although you can be forgiven for having missed it.

It was contained in a six page fact as part of the budget proposal.

As hinted at by various administration officials, including Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, the plan proposes spending $200 billion over 10 years with the expectation that the money will attract and support $1 trillion in private/public infrastructure investment.

The budget document described the plan as a combination of new federal funding, incentives for private sector investment, and expedited projects.

“The administration’s goal is to seek long-term reform on how infrastructure projects are regulated, funded, delivered and maintained,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said at a news conference.

She said more details will be forthcoming, including a legislative package later this year, but described the plan outlined on Tuesday as “the main key principles.”

The plan calls for making changes in regulations to speed up the environmental review and permit process and to shift more services to the private sections.

One example of the latter mentioned in the budget document would be to transfer the air traffic control system from the Federal Aviation Administration to a nonprofit or nongovernmental entity in 2021.

Another change would be to allow imposing tolls on interstate highways by reducing existing restrictions on that practice.

Related to that, the plan would allow private investors to construct and maintain rest stops along highways.

A report by The Hill, said that the infrastructure plan relies on leveraging private sector investment, ensuring that federal dollars are targeted toward transformative projects, shifting more services and underused capital assets to the private sector, and giving states and localities more flexibility.

Pilot programs will be proposed to explore new environmental reviews, designate a single entity to guide a project through the approval process, put some permitting into the hands of states and localities, and make sure that agencies don’t need to worry about making a permit approval litigation proof.

Funding of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program will be boosted to $1 billion every year.

The proposal to allow states to impose tolls on interstate highways won the approval of Patrick D. Jones, executive director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, although with some qualifications.

“Congress should give states access to one more tool in the toolbox by allowing them to toll their Interstate highways specifically to rebuild them,” he said. “This wouldn’t be a mandate. No state would be required to toll their interstates. This would simply give states an option, the flexibility to choose tolling if it makes sense to them.”

President Donald Trump had spoken often during his 2016 campaign about the need to improve the nation’s infrastructure.

He mentioned it again on election night speech and during a Feb. 28 address to Congress, saying that it would create millions of jobs.

In response, Democrats noted that Trump’s budget would provide just $5 billion for transportation infrastructure in FY 2018 and did not provide any detail about where the money would go or how it would be paid for.

But Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune said the plan “recognizes important needs in our country and takes a long-term view on meeting those needs.”

Chao expects Congress to begin working on the infrastructure package in the third quarter of this year.

Public Transit Looks to Trump Infrastructure Plan

April 10, 2017

Faced with federal budget cuts, rail and transit agencies are hoping that the Trump administration will be open to helping to fund transit capital projects as part of a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that has been promised.

It is not clear yet when the plan will be rolled out or what it will seek to fund.

President Donald Trump recently said that the infrastructure plan will be for at least $1 trillion and that there may be a 90-day deadline to get started in order to receive funding.

Trump has said the plan will be revealed as early as next month.

That timeline was echoed by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao who said the administration is “working on a legislative package that will probably be in May, or late May.”

Chao said the plan will focus on investments for roads, bridges, airports and potentially broadband access, veteran hospitals, and improvements for the electrical grid and water systems.

She added that the bill containing the infrastructure plan will tackle reducing regulations.

In particular, rail and transit authorities are concerned about how the administration’s “skinny budget” seeks to reduce grant funding from the Federal Transit Authority and the U.S. DOT’s TIGER program. Hence, their interest in obtaining funding for capital projects through the infrastructure plan.